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Four post-secondary institutions will share a new campus in Langford

Royal Roads University, the University of Victoria, Camosun College and the Justice Institute of British Columbia will share a new $98-million building in downtown Langford.

Four post-secondary institutions will converge on a single campus in Langford by fall 2024 in an “unprecedented” partnership that will bring more opportunities for higher learning to the West Shore.

Premier John Horgan and officials from Royal Roads University, the University of Victoria, Camosun College and the Justice Institute of British Columbia gathered on a dusty lot at the corner of Peatt Road and Goldstream Avenue on Wednesday to kick off construction of a $98-million five-storey mass-timber building that will be the first phase of a downtown Langford campus.

“Residents will now be able to further their education right here at home without needing to live in — or commute to — another city,” Horgan said. “I know this will encourage even more people in the West Shore to get an education that is the key to future prosperity.”

He said British Columbia will have one million job openings in the coming decade — and four of every five of those jobs will require a post-secondary ­education or specialized skills training.

The new campus is expected to take down some roadblocks to higher learning on the West Shore, including lengthy commute times and a housing shortage in the core municipalities.

For Connor Hogan, who just finished Grade 11 at Belmont Secondary, it means he can study engineering or something in health care without having to spend a lot of money on accommodations or commuting.

“I can bike here in five minutes,” Hogan said. “It will be great to have a campus here because a lot of people really do want to stay close to home because of the costs and now rising inflation.

“We’re faced with quite a long commute if we want to go to school at UVic or at Camosun, and that can really affect our decision with what school we go to.”

The Langford campus will include space for Sooke School District 62, and will serve students from First Nations throughout southern Vancouver Island, including T’Sou-ke, Pacheedaht, Scia’new, Xwsepsum, Songhees and Malahat.

According to the province, the region has lower-than-average direct-to-post-secondary transition rates — 38 per cent compared to the provincial average of 51 per cent — with residents identifying long commutes as one of the barriers.

Anne Kang, B.C.’s minister of advanced education, said the population of the West Shore is projected to continue growing over the next decade, and noted that the community has more residents younger than 15 than the rest of the province.

Royal Roads will offer courses in business, hospitality, environmental practice and communications studies. UVic will offer computer science, engineering and humanities. Camosun College will have health-care assistant and educational assistant training, and the Justice Institute will offer paramedic and first-responder training.

Adult upgrading will be offered through School District 62.

Royal Roads president Philip Steenkamp said the campus collaboration is unique in Canada and offers high-school completion to skills training to advanced degrees, with “a focus on students, not institutions.”

“As we see more people looking for post-secondary training, this campus will allow us and our partners to offer an expanded suite of options for learners at every age and stage,” Steenkamp said.

The project includes a $77.8-million investment from the provincial government for construction of the building, and $18.5 million from Royal Roads University for the land purchase and an additional $500,000 for capital costs. Capital spending will also include $1 million from the University of Victoria and $200,000 from Camosun College.

The City of Langford will invest $27.5 million in parking for the campus, as well as road infrastructure upgrades and greenspaces, including $1.5 million in funding over 10 years for development and support of an Innovation Studio to help incubate new businesses.

The city has formed a Langford Education Fund, contributing $75,000 annually for five years to support local youth graduating high school who want to attend post-secondary in Langford.

Langford Mayor Stew Young called it a “historic day” for the city, which has been striving for a campus for more than 25 years. He said the total cost of the project — about $125 million — is the largest single investment in Langford to date.

“It will support our young people. It will support businesses. It will bring vibrancy to our community.”

The campus is to open in fall 2024 with about 600 students. By 2035, the province estimates the campus will have as many as 1,300 full-time students.

Several other lots surrounding the Our Lady of the Rosary Church along Goldstream Avenue and Peatt Road have already been acquired or are in the process of negotiations, said Young. Eventually, the campus could see up to four buildings of similar size, or higher, and the campus is expected to eventually have a performance theatre.

The province said the West Shore is one of the fastest growing regions in Canada, with population growth of nearly 50 per cent between 2001 and 2016. It is projected to grow by another 33 per cent over the next decade.

Ravi Parmar, chair of School District 62, said when he graduated from Belmont High a decade ago and started his first year at UVic, he was “a bit of keener” and took early morning classes, which meant getting up at 5:30 a.m. and taking the long, rush-hour route to the university.

“It’s a long commute and a longer day,” he said. “Now we can remove those barriers. Students can spend more time studying. Now we have the opportunity to live, learn and work closer to home.”

Meanwhile, Our Lady of the Rosary parish has plans to build a new church on a seven-acre Irwin Road site. The church has been on Goldstream Avenue for 80 years and serves Catholics throughout the West Shore.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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