Hill Academy independent school put on indefinite hold 

Lack of firm commitments led to Academy backing out of Pemberton location

click to enlarge FILE PHOTO BY CATHRYN ATKINSON - Agreement stalled A memorandum of understanding was signed in October of 2013.
  • file photo by cathryn atkinson
  • Agreement stalled A memorandum of understanding was signed in October of 2013.

Village of Pemberton officials were taken aback by the wording of a press release issued by the Sunstone Development Group last week.

In the release, Sunstone announced that Hill Canada Inc. had decided to terminate its independent school project in Pemberton due to an "inability of the parties involved to reach a contractual agreement."

"While many communities send a clear message that they're open for business, the Village of Pemberton has some work to do in fostering collaborative relationships that would create a sustainable economic base for the areas," Sunstone Ridge president Neil Colquhoun said in the release.

"But we believe passionately in Pemberton and will continue to bring forward opportunities that make the best use of our land and provide direct benefits to the community."

Calls to Sunstone were not returned.

The announcement took Pemberton officials by surprise — earlier that very day, the town had staff out at the proposed site of the school working on the development permit process.

"I'm hoping it was a bit of a knee jerk reaction. I don't understand it," Mayor-Elect Mike Richman said of Sunstone's comments on Monday.

"It's certainly not the kind of message one sends when one wants to continue working on a partnership, but I'd like to reach out to them and understand their comments better.

"From a village perspective, we're comfortable that we've tried to be as collaborative as possible, super supportive of the school, and hoped to see that development go ahead. We've done whatever we can from the administrative side to make it work."

According to Peter Merrill, CEO of The Hill Academy, it was a lack of firm commitments that led to the decision.

"I just needed to get a firm commitment from somebody in terms of where we were going financially, and I never got that, so I had to back away," Merrill said.

The Sunstone Development Group owns the land the Hill Academy Campus was to be built on.

In October of 2013, Sunstone signed a memorandum of understanding between itself, the Village of Pemberton and Hill Canada Inc.

In June of this year, Pemberton residents voted overwhelmingly against the authorization of a $4.8 million loan to build an indoor court-based recreation complex, of which The Hill Academy would have been an anchor tenant.

Following that referendum, The Hill Academy had said it would pursue plans for a facility of its own.

So what changed?

"I still never got any commitment from any other groups that said that they were going to be in. Yeah. So nothing changed," Merrill said.

"I was sort of taking everybody at their word saying that this was going to happen... I presented them with a budget and I kept asking when was this going to happen and I never got any response."

The Hill Academy in Pemberton already had about 25 students signed up to enroll. Merrill said those families will be getting a full refund.

While the project hasn't been entirely buried just yet, Merrill said it would take some very firm commitments for him to come back.

"I'm a little leery as we go forward," he said.

"I'd be stupid not to consider any sort of presentation... but for me to consider anything it's got to be very firm, and everybody's got to be on pretty solid ground before I'll even entertain something.

"And even then it's going to be pretty tough for me right now."


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