Aurora College is eyeing a parcel of prized Yellowknife municipal land for its new proposed campus — Tin Can Hill.
Yellowknife city council heard a presentation about the proposal during a Monday committee meeting.
Council is being asked to vote on whether it will enter into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the Government of the Northwest Territories and Aurora College for the new location. This wouldn't imply the pre-approval by council or the city.
Instead, said city manager Sheila Bassi-Kellett, an MOU would enable Aurora College to undertake planning and design for the Tin Can Hill location so that they can prepare an estimate, which could be used to seek capital dollars for construction in the future.
Bassi-Kellett said it would also be the start of the land use processes that the city must follow as laid out in the community plan, the Zoning Bylaw and the land administration bylaw, all of which would include public engagement.
"The location [Tin Can Hill] meets Aurora College's interests in a land parcel that can meet current and future polytechnic needs," said Bassi-Kellett.
Tin Can Hill is a large stretch of wilderness the runs alongside Yellowknife Bay, an arm of Great Slave Lake. Named for the rusted tin cans left by prospectors decades ago — and which are still plentiful — the area is a haven for off-leash dog walkers, bikers and picnickers.
Bassi-Kellett said city administration likes several things about the idea.
"It's close to downtown, it's adjacent to existing municipal services. It's an appropriate use of this spectacular location that will continue to include public access to the outdoor areas."
Aurora College is in the midst of transforming into a polytechnic university, and revamping some of its programming.
Its Yellowknife North Slave campus is currently in part of the Northern United Place building on Franklin Ave, but according to city administration notes, and the N.W.T. government, that spot "has been deemed inadequate for some time."
Place to grow
"In Yellowknife, specifically, the existing facility has become an obstacle to growth," said Chris Joseph, the assistant deputy minister of post secondary education renewal for the Department of Education, Culture and Employment.
"Northern United Place has been a great partner to our college and will continue to be for the next few years, but we know through the medium and long term, it does not have the space required to construct and develop a polytechnic university."
Joseph said the proposed site will help expand the university, and put it on the map for residents and students from other parts of Canada.
In the meeting, Mayor Rebecca Alty says even though she's a born-and-raised Yellowknifer, she had never set foot on Aurora College's campus until two years after she returned home from a southern university. She believes there aren't a lot of people who know where the current campus is.
"I don't think most residents could pinpoint where our college is and I think that's a disservice to our northern residents," she said.
Coun. Shauna Morgan said she thinks the new space "could be an amazing opportunity" if it's done "right."
"My vision ideally is that by taking a space that is a natural space, that there is so much beauty that we could really create solid programming that's especially relevant both to northern students and students from other parts of the world and Canada," she said.
"I think what we're considering here is entrusting Aurora College with quite a treasure ... so that's a big step."
In tune with the environment
Joseph said ideally, the site would be developed as early as 2023-2024. He said the project could be built incrementally.
The area being considered is over 300,000 square meters, while the footprint of the proposed polytechnic university campus is closer to 25,000 square meters, Joseph said. The idea is to integrate "the physical form with the natural environment."
There is currently no environmental assessment of the site on file with the city or the N.W.T. government. Joseph said it would be a priority to ensure the site is suitable for a campus moving forward.
He added that, "This is not about taking a piece of land away from the community."
"This is about taking a piece of land and finding a use that optimizes it in the way that is consistent with historic uses and expectations of the community, but does so in a manner that maximizes the potential opportunity for this site."
Tin Can Hill already designated for development
Yellowknife's community plan designates the Tin Can Hill area for future development.
It's currently listed as downtown central residential, said Charlsey White, director of planning and development for the city.
"When we look at the text of our community plan, it does identify specifically that any post secondary institution or education facility is to be located in one of our downtown designations, so this would meet that," said White.
Currently the space is zoned as parks and recreation, she said, so it would need to be rezoned through a public process, which would bring a decision before City Council.
Council will return to the topic June 6 at 7 p.m.