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Purcell International Education answers community’s questions regarding proposed boarding school at open house

Questions ranged from investment and population growth to opportunities in sports and education
A screenshot of the OCP map amendment that was recently approved by City Council. It can be seen in the agenda package from Monday, November 25, 2019, on the City of Kimberley website. The two red areas show the outlined land for phase one and phase two of the proposed school. Phase one is the lower, smaller red portion to the right, while phase two is the larger red portion to the left.

Purcell International Education (PIE) hosted a community information session on Thursday, December 5, 2019 at McKim school, where they answered the community’s questions about their proposed international boarding school in Kimberley.

Duncan Macleod, President of PIE, and Tom Ristimacki, Vice President - Education and Engagement for PIE, hosted the information session.

Ristimacki started off by giving a general overview of their plan thus far before focusing on the question and answer period.

He explained that PIE is involved in many international education initiatives and local projects and that their latest plan is to build a world class international boarding school in Marysville.

“Students will attend from all over the world. Because it’s a class four school, the majority of the students have to be from outside of B.C., but one third of the students will be Canadian or North American,” Ristimacki said, adding that a big focus of the school will be high-level athletic academies.

READ MORE: Kimberley City Council approves OCP map amendment for proposed international school

He also explained their two-phase model, “the plan for phase one is to start off nice and small, maybe 150 students in year one, and grow it gradually and incrementally to possibly up to 300 students in phase one. After that, we will look at expanding to the larger parcel [of land] and a bigger campus with more enhanced campus facilities.”

Ristimacki says that there are a few other key things for Kimberley residents to be aware of. First of all, PIE is now working with Canadian investors, as opposed to their original plan of trying to secure foreign investment.

“We want to be as transparent as possible. Don’t expect it to just explode over night; this is a very complicated project with a lot of different steps. It has been moving forward over the past year, and it will continue to move forward,” Ristimacki said.

The absolute earliest Kimberley can expect to see students actually attending school, he says, is September 2021.

In terms of the golf club, Ristimacki explained that they are still moving forward with the transition of the club, and golfers can expect to have next to zero interruptions in play for the next few years.

“We’ll be taking over operations of the club at some point early in the new year,” he said. “Phase one happens across the street, so for the first few years people will still be playing on the existing course. We won’t be developing anything on the course until we create the new golf holes.”

Ristimacki also touched on the potential social benefits of the school for local students and community members.

“We’re developing [this school] here in Kimberley to be part of the community. As a boarding school, all of the students will live on campus but the campus facilities that we create are going to be available to the rest of the community and public school students,” he explained. “Kimberley kids won’t be going to this school unless they are part of athletic academies, but all of the after school clubs and activities, whether it’s robotics, or they want to learn mandarin, or practice kung fu, anything we’re doing at the school that Kimberley kids or community members are interested in, they will have the opportunity to participate.”

Ristimacki then handed over the microphone to Macleod, who mediated the question and answer portion of the evening.

Many questions were asked, from investment and location plans to the type of sports and education that will be available through the school.

One of the first questions asked was what inspired PIE to propose this school in the first place. Macleod says there are many reasons, but one of them is Kimberley’s long-standing history with international programming.

“International education is a huge reality in Canada, and globally. There are significant economic and educational benefits,” said Macleod. “Kimberley is one of the pioneering communities in the country in terms of international education opportunities. There have been fee-paying students going to school here at Selkirk since 1981,which is decades ahead of many other small communities, but also large cities; even Toronto. There is an established history and it has become part of the culture.

“There are more students wanting to come to B.C. than B.C. can accommodate. When we look at this type of school, it creates opportunity for both international and local students, enhancing local community life and educational opportunities. Our public school system is exceptional, I’ve been working in it for 20 years, my wife works in it, and I’m very proud. But this is above and beyond that.”

Another question early on revolved around the change from foreign to Canadian investment.

Macleod explained that the last time they held an information session was October of last year, when their original plan was to secure investment from China.

“What’s been fascinating for us is [how] we’ve been caught up in the vortex of macro geo-political circumstances and situations,” said Macleod. “Everything has changed for us since Dec 5 2018, when Meng Wanzhou was arrested, things started to change in terms of the partnerships that would have been available to us.”

He went on to say that this change in investment opportunity has proven to be beneficial for PIE in the long run.

“What it’s resulted in though, is a net benefit to our pathway forward. We had to reconsider what we were doing when our original plan got shelved and we came up with a new way of moving forward,” said Macleod. “Part of that involves incremental building; modular construction. We’re not going to build a school that sits partially empty. We can build and grow as the students enrol and capacity affords us.”

He says that it is more beneficial for the community as well, because PIE can continue to engage and adapt with feedback.

“How is this impacting us? We can take stock of that. What are you, as residents, liking, what are the challenges and how do we move forward?” he said. “We’re very close to where we want to be and thats why were still standing here.”

Another question around the Chinese and Canadian political climate arose, but it was focused on wether or not Chinese students will still want to, or be allowed to, stay here in Canada and Kimberley.

Macleod responded by explaining that neither PIE’s timeline nor their student body should be affected by it.

“Our model isn’t dependent on Chinese students. Kids from all over the world will attend this school,” he said, referring to the Rocky Mountain International Student Program (RMISP), which had no Chinese students enrolled until 2015. “It’s a huge opportunity for our kids though. We do want Chinese kids learning here, sharing cultures. You can have a Chinese student working alongside a German student, or a Japanese student working with a Canadian student.”

READ MORE: Kimberley City Council gives green light to bylaw amendment for proposed international school

Another question revolved around the population increase, and whether or not entire families will decide to move to Kimberley.

Macleod says that PIE doesn’t expect any families to move to Kimberley, especially because the school provides housing for students. He says that teachers (and staff) may move to Kimberley for the opportunity to work at the school, but that’s as far as he expects it to go.

“300 teens wandering around Marysville is a legitimate concern, but it’s not so much about that. We want them, obviously, to go grab a coffee at Timber Hitch, or a snack from the Petro-Can, but we also want our kids on that campus after school,” he said. “It’s a huge opportunity for everyone. There will be clubs and sports that can’t be offered at Selkirk or Mt. Baker.”

Macleod says that families will come to visit, likely stay in local accommodation, and spend their money in town as well.

“Whatever the primary spend is by an international student, so say it’s $25,000, the secondary spend is up to 50 per cent of that. Ski passes, ski equipment, mountain bikes, snacks, food, it ripples. There’s often also a tertiary spend when families come to visit,” said Macleod. “We’re not anticipating any families to move here because that’s not the experience of other private schools in communities of this size. Most of the private schools that exist in small towns in Ontario, as an example, but also in the US, families don’t move there. It’s a boarding school for a reason. They may come to visit, and we hope they do.”

Another question that was asked referred to the last meeting of City Council, when Councillor Kent Goodwin said that he’s concerned about the fact that the school will be exempt from taxation. A resident asked for clarification surrounding that matter.

“All schools are exempt [from taxation], not just this type. With regard to that aspect of this, that’s not something we can control. That’s provincial legislation,” said Macleod. “Our goal is to be the best possible corporate citizen we can be and we’re going to look at all kinds of opportunities to engage and support community life. [Taxation] right now, is not something that’s on the table because it’s not something we can control.”

Other questions revolved around the types of programming and sports at the school, how it will affect the RMISP program, how it might affect the health care system locally, the curriculum the students will learn from, the time frame they attend school and more.

Macleod explained that students will be learning from the B.C. curriculum, which is the same as Selkirk or Mt. Baker. He says that the academy sports will focus on the 24 NCAA, division one, scholarship producing sports. However, he says there will be normal school sports teams such as soccer and baseball, and clubs such as badminton and cross country, which will compete against local public school teams.

He adds that the school will have a large support system hired within their staff including a nurse and councillor. If an incident or emergency happens, students will go to the East Kootenay Regional Hospital, and they will all be covered by insurance one way or another.

Macleod says that the RMISP program and the boarding school attract two different kinds of students. Home stay is different from a boarding school and the two kinds of learning come at different price points. Macleod says that the two programs will work in synergy as opposed to being competition.

In terms of the time frame for students attending the boarding school, Macleod says it could be anywhere from six weeks to three years.

“It varies. Similar to the RMISP, some students are here for 5 months, some for ten, and some are here to graduate, so three years or more. We are going to accommodate that full spectrum,” he said. “With Guatemalan students, it’s common that they only want to come for six weeks because that’s the common time frame in their country. But with boarding schools, it can be a bit different and attract a different group because they want to stay and will be here for a longer period of time. They’ll become members of the community.”

For the full video of the information session, watch the embeded video at the top of this story, or visit the Purcell International Education Facebook page.

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Corey Bullock

About the Author: Corey Bullock

Corey Bullock is a multimedia journalist and writer who grew up in Burlington, Ontario.
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