Education opportunities abound in Whistler 

Eleven recommendations put to council in task force report

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Whistler has the pick of the litter when it comes to potential partners in education but the question remains: who will be chosen?

"It's really exciting to be sitting at this table, to be faced with a real gluttony of riches," said Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden.

That much was obvious in the report from the Task Force on Learning and Education, made public this week and presented both at council's Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday afternoon, July 2, and then later that evening at the regular council meeting.

Though there are challenges facing the post-secondary world, council learned from its appointed task force that Whistler is well positioned when it comes to enticing potential partners and students. Its extensive infrastructure, strong resort industry and world-class reputation all put Whistler in a unique position in the competitive world of post-secondary education.

"Whistler has many advantages it can capitalize on," said Gwyn Symmons, who led the task force. "I think you do have the opportunity to capitalize on this field."

Symmons presented 11 recommendations from the task force. Among them is a recommendation that Whistler set a timeframe for identifying five priorities within the next three to five years.

Councillor Jayson Faulkner agreed that there is momentum right now that should be seized, particularly as the resort works on its cultural and economic planning.

"There's never been a better time for that," he said. "Time is of the essence."

The task force recommends choosing education providers with strong reputations to help build Whistler's profile in the field of education, as well as looking to initiatives that are "easy to establish."

Another recommended task is that Whistler prepare an inventory of building space available for educational initiatives.

The task force further recommends Whistler consider putting potential seed money into developing some of the potential initiatives.

Council could take a variety of different roles to further its goals, including a proactive role in which it could issue a Request For Proposal to potential providers and then select one to develop an education initiative. It could also take a more passive role where it responds to proposals from others.

Through the course of its research, the task force learned that The Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia is interested in partnering with Whistler. So is Capilano University.

Emily Carr University of Art + Design is interested in working with Whistler on a number of potential opportunities in arts and culture, while the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is looking at a resident symphony summer orchestra for serious music students ages 15 to 22.

Just last week the mayor met with representatives from the Canadian Sport Institute who also see potential to partner in Whistler.

And of course, the backdrop to it all is the proposal to build the Whistler International Campus with a potential student body of up to 1,500 students after a decade.

In response to the report, Roger Zen — the project's proponent and the landowner of the building site — said in a press release: "Reading the Whistler Task Force on Learning and Education report, we were excited to see how well the Whistler International Campus (WIC) vision — to make Whistler a place where the world comes to learn and play — so closely align with the task force's vision.

"With the release of the report, the WIC team looks forward to returning to the project development process with the RMOW."

It is not clear when the campus rezoning will be on council's agenda.

What is clear is that council appears ready to take action in the coming months, and will base future decisions on this report.

"I think this report will provide a very good framework for us," said the mayor.

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