Ministers enthusiastic about completing Cowichan Place vision

The final piece of the Cowichan Place puzzle inched closer to provincial approval last week as Valley officials gained the ears of four important government ministers.

According to North Cowichan Mayor Jon Lefebure, the push was on at the Union of BC Municipalities convention to convince the province that a replacement for Cowichan Secondary School should be of the highest priority.

Redevelopment of Cowichan Place, a large site located between the Trans Canada Highway and Duncan Street, has been underway since talks began in 2005. At that time, it included a concept for building a new Vancouver Island University campus and a new high school, as well as moving the ball fields and the Cowichan Exhibition.

"Well that whole plan now is missing one final step: that is the new high school and it is also going to have a new trade school between the university and the high school.

"It’s going to be dual credit, so you can actually start taking university credits at the trade school while you’re still in high school, which is a big cost savings and also pushes people down the road towards university.

"It’s an exciting final piece of Cowichan Place. We’ve got the new tournament ball fields at a fantastic facility, we’ve got the new exhibition grounds which are great and we’ve got Vancouver Island University campus in place which is just phenomenal for the community.

"At UBCM we had the chance to talk to the minister of education, the minister of advanced education and the minister of aboriginal affairs because what we know right now is First Nations are using VIU in very high numbers. They are very strong at the trade school, too, and doing very well and getting jobs out of it."

The Ministry of Skills and Labour was also part of the discussions, he said.

"All four of those ministers were excited about the completion of the Cowichan Place concept," Lefebure said.

They did not come away with any promises of approval for the new secondary school, however.

"What we came away with was a lot of shared excitement in those ministries about the opportunities that this will present and how it will fit in with the provincial government’s own policies. The whole thing was, we made our case; we actually had Joe Rhodes and Bob Harper from School District 79 come to two of the meetings with us, too.

"The importance of it is that we laid it out before all four ministries and got their endorsement of the concept so that when there are capital funds available we believe that we will be looked at very favourably to move ahead with this project."

It wasn’t what they hoped for but it moved everything forward, Lefebure said.

"That’s honestly the best we can do at this point in time. We make the best case we can. They look at it, see all the synergies they love like the First Nations involvement and the trade school.

"They like the fact that it’s local government working with the school district and the university. It’s just the capital," he said. "Getting to share our enthusiasm with the ministers at the UBCM was really enjoyable. They saw it; they got it. Now, it’s just fitting it into their budgets."