On Monday, June 5, Kimberley residents were invited to a community engagement event from Purcell Collegiate Incorporated (PCI) to get a much-anticipated update on the status of their start-up plan for September 2023.
It’s been announced that, although shovels have yet to go in the ground for the proposed campus and dormitories on the lands of the Purcell Golf Course, PCI plans to welcome up to 60 students in September 2023, to be housed at St. Eugene, and educated at College of the Rockies.
Duncan MacLeod, CEO and head of school at PCI, opened the presentation with some history of international education in Kimberley, and some lead-up into where things are at with the project and why.
MacLeod, who’s worked in numerous capacities in international education for 25 years, said fee-paying international students — separate from exchange students — have been coming to Kimberley, to attend Selkirk in particular, since 1981.
“Kimberley, amongst all the reasons it’s well known and well regarded, and in a lot of ways very unique, has one of the longest histories with international education in Canada in terms of fee-paying international students,” MacLeod said.
He added when he graduated from Selkirk in 1988 there were six or seven international students in his graduating class alone.
“It’s a program that’s undergone significant evolution over the years but it’s indicative of the opportunity that international education presents,” he said. “It’s a broad-based opportunity, and that was the genesis for this.”
He explained that PCI was born in 2018, based on demand for spaces and the benefit international students bring a search began for land suitable to put a campus on. This is no easy feat in Kimberley, MacLeod said, as a great deal of land has been affected by mining, or protected from mining and therefore inaccessible due to it being designated as green space.
This is when the partnership between PCI and the Kimberley Golf Course began.
“This is the fourth year for Purcell operating Purcell Golf, home of the Kimberley Golf Club, and it’s referred to as such because of the strong partnership that sustains that,” MacLeod said.
When COVID hit, PCI continued to move forward with their development plan despite the “less than conducive atmosphere” to be proceeding with a construction project of that magnitude.
“We did our best and we have successfully parallel streamed several of the capital inputs required to ultimately activate the construction opportunities,” MacLeod said.
At this time changes began to occur at Purcell Golf, with the Perch, their new par 3 being constructed as well as the four new holes along the river, built to accommodate replace holes that the campus will be built on.
PCI was very close to being able to capitalize the project and ultimately begin construction, working with a team including a project manager from a construction company that’s built over 200 schools in B.C. and Alberta, and the architecture.
“We got to June and by June as you’ll all remember, Putin had gone into Ukraine, inflation had started to soar, construction projects had started to hit the pause button and some had even been scuttled.
“It was very disappointing at the time, but at this point we’re all very very thankful we didn’t start and instead pivoted to … the new start-up model.”
At this point, MacLeod welcomed Nasuʔkin Joe Pierre, Chief of the ʔaq’am Community, to the stage.
“St. Eugene, which is owned by the four Ktunaxa Reserves in the local area as well as the Shushwap Indian Band, is “mostly a summer-oriented resort,” Pierre said. “Ever since we opened St. Eugene, the winter months [get] between 25 and 30 per cent occupancy, touching on 35 per cent if we’re lucky and that’s really how we’ve operated for years.
“The one or two years before COVID we were starting to have some conversations about St. Eugene possibly becoming a seasonal operation and then COVID forced us to become a seasonal operation, in the springtime too of 2020.”
Pierre began having conversations with MacLeod about the idea of housing Purcell Collegiate students at St. Eugene, with the thought that as the resort has low seasonal occupancy, it would be beneficial for the resort itself to house the students, while also allowing the project to attain proof of concept for the financiers.
“We were really being told, ‘well we’d love to fund this program for you guys but we want proof of concept,’” Pierre explained. “So it kind of became the cart before the horse, how do you prove concept without the space, and how do you get the space without proving the concept?
“So this became our idea on maybe this is how we can house the students and then the conversation became, well where will they go to school? That’s when we came up with the idea of approaching the College of the Rockies.”
Now, in lieu of having their own amenity, which MacLeod says is still the goal, St. Eugene will serve as the boarding facility and COTR as the academic campus.
“The way we’re doing it and how we’re doing it with St. Eugene and COTR is unique obviously to our situation and circumstance but it’s otherwise a model that’s in place and something that the Ministry, when we applied for our certification was familiar with,” MacLeod said.
There is also an extension, or satellite opportunity at Kimberley Alpine Resort, that is still being worked on.
In addition solving the issue of proof of concept, MacLeod said the partnership with ʔaq’am is leverageable in terms of moving the project of getting the actual school built forward, due to its synergy with the revised B.C. curriculum, which includes things like First Peoples’ Principles of Learning and Indigenous Ways of Knowing.
“The opportunity we have now in working with ʔaq’am and the broader Ktunaxa Nation and the human capital, the social capital, the cultural capital, the educational capital that they bring to what we are doing is timely and not just opportune, it’s historically significant,” MacLeod said.
“What these students will have access to in terms of boarding experience on reserve, in a community like this, with programming that supports engagement and encourages exploration and exchange is really inspiring for us.”
When he opened the floor to questions, the first was if the model has changed from 2018 from being a “sports-minded college to what you’re talking about now?”
“Yes and no,” MacLeod replied. “With this new model starting off as we are in amenities that aren’t ours, the sports academy opportunity is not easily accessible.”
He added they are still working towards that, and will “action it in any way they can as soon as they can,” but another challenge with the sporting aspect is that because the students will be on a modified schedule, that is in classes from Wednesday to Sunday, they wouldn’t be able to compete with Baker and Selkirk who play on the weekends.
He added that the vision for the golf course is still to build the 300-student school as soon as possible, including ice rink and track, but what was needed in an uncertain economy and the “debt they were on the verge of” was proof of concept and cash flow, which this current situation aims to solve.
He said they have construction level drawings that are actionable as well as a development permit.
When asked if there is a timeline, MacLeod said it the goal is for it to be done by September 2026.
“I’m 50 per cent excited standing in front of you because we’re going to have kids here in September and we’re going to do all these amazing things with them, and I’m 50 per cent excited because I feel like we’re three years away from [the completed project.”
Another audience member asked how successful PCI thinks they’ll be to entice parents to send their children to this sort of curriculum, rather than a sports academy.
MacLeod touched on Kimberley being a “destination market” for international students, and the opportunities small towns afford them, including English language acquisition, which is at the core of the program. In larger cities, international students are able to speak their native languages more easily due to the larger, more diverse populations.
While unable to disclose figures about current enrollment, due to just now “coming clear of some Ministry pieces,” MacLeod said there’s been “significant interest” in enrollment already.
He added that as they are just coming out of a “very guided process,” people will be hearing a lot more from PCI and said this is the start of a reemergence for them.
You can follow PCI’s progress at purcellcollegiate.ca/ and on Facebook at facebook.com/purcellcollegiate
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