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Polytechnic university in Yellowknife could cost $80M: report

A polytechnic university in Yellowknife could cost up to $80 million to build, but according to a university feasibility study commissioned by Yellowknife city council, the investment is worth it.

A university feasibility study released Monday says the benefits of a polytechnic outweigh the costs

Yellowknife city councillor, Julian Morse, said the city can clear the way for a polytechnic university by focusing on new housing and identifying land for a campus. (Steve Silva/CBC)

A polytechnic university in Yellowknife could cost up to $80 million to build, but according to a university feasibility study commissioned by Yellowknife city council, the investment is worth it.

"Our conclusion is, I don't think you can afford not to do this," said Chris Loreto, a principal at StrategyCorp, the firm that conducted the study.

Loreto presented the findings of the $50,000 University Feasibility and Benefits Study to Yellowknife's mayor and council on Monday.

He said a polytechnic university is "essential for the long-term sustainability of the city and the territory."

An 89-page report on the study recommends the creation of a polytechnic university in Yellowknife that co-operates with other post-secondary institutions already working in the territory, such as Dechinta Centre for Research and Learning, Collège Nordique and Wilfrid Laurier University.

I don't think you can afford not to do this.- Chris Loreto, principal at StrategyCorp

This "federated model" would allow institutions to share resources like libraries and technology, and enable students to more easily transfer credits from one institution to another.

The study examined the viability of an institution with 200 full-time and 4,000 part-time students, which is about 30 per cent larger than Aurora College.

Loreto said the city could have a "very lean" polytechnic up and running in five years.

N.W.T. government agrees to a polytechnic university

After the release of a comprehensive review of Aurora College last May, the Northwest Territories government announced plans to transform Aurora College into a polytechnic university.

But whether the school's main campus will be moved from Fort Smith, N.W.T., to Yellowknife remains an open question.

The university feasibility study says the answer is simple: Yellowknife is the government, industry and transit hub of the territory.

The capital city, it says, is best-equipped to headquarter a successful polytechnic university.

After the release of a comprehensive review of Aurora College last May, the Northwest Territories government announced plans to transform Aurora College into a polytechnic university. (Walter Strong/CBC)

Coun. Julian Morse chairs the city's post-secondary advisory committee and has long been council's most vocal champion of a university.

Morse said right now, the $80-million price tag is just a "theoretical figure."

"The thing is that if they were to use existing infrastructure, that figure could be totally irrelevant," he said.

Morse said the government has yet to make any substantial moves toward a polytechnic in the N.W.T.

Federal and territorial support is crucial

Loreto said that for a polytechnic to become a reality, territorial and federal government buy-in is essential.

First, governments will need to cover a significant portion of the construction and operational costs.

Second, the creation of a degree-granting institution — be it an evolution of Aurora College or a new school altogether — likely requires changes to territorial legislation.

The report says the benefits of a polytechnic university in Yellowknife are manifold: it could build up the territory's skilled labour force; attract international students and faculty to the city; and bring in research dollars to help tackle N.W.T.-specific problems.

Chris Loreto is a principal at StrategyCorp, the firm that conducted the feasibility study. He says a polytechnic university is critical to the economic and social future of the N.W.T. (Steve Silva/CBC)

A campus presence in Yellowknife could also prompt the construction of new housing and inject life into the city's downtown.

With Yukon College well on its way to becoming a university, Morse said the time to push ahead with a Yellowknife polytechnic is now.

"What I would like to see in very near future is a strong commitment from the territorial government," Morse said.

"I'm very excited about this. I'm glad this study has been done."

With files from Steve Silva

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