Students pitch in towards college expansion

Bit by bit, the Okanagan College Foundation is gathering the $5 million they promised to raise to cover the college’s portion of the costs of the new Centre of Excellence at the Penticton campus.

Financial co-ordinator Cory Nelmes of the Okanagan College Students' Union talks to the crowd near the site of the centre of excellence currently under construction. The student organization donated just under $40

Bit by bit, the Okanagan College Foundation is gathering the $5 million they promised to raise to cover the college’s portion of the costs of the new Centre of Excellence at the Penticton campus.

The latest addition to the account is a donation from the college’s student union, who donated the money from a legacy fund they created for students at the Penticton campus.

“Students in Penticton have long felt need for more space, and over the years have set aside funds to ensure that need would be met when the opportunity arose,” said Cory Nelmes, financial co-ordinator for the Okanagan College Students’ Union. She handed over a cheque for $36,997.10 to foundation president Jim Henderson, clearing out the legacy fund bank account.

“I have gladly passed out many cheques and awards for bursaries and scholarships to the students, but as Jim (Hamilton) said a moment ago, this is the first time a cheque has come the other way,” said Henderson as he announced the foundation would be matching the students’ donation dollar for dollar.

“Officially we have $2.8 million. I expect we will be will over $3 million very shortly, we are going to the general public very soon,” said Henderson.

The Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation will be one of the most environmentally responsible public buildings in North America when it is complete later this spring, trying to meed the requirements of the Living Building Challenge. That challenge incorporates some of the most demanding environmental building standards that focus not just on construction, but also on building operation.

“The Centre of Excellence represents a fundamental change in the way we live, work and learn,” said Nelmes. “We are proud to be students at an institution taking such bold steps towards embracing new ideas and challenges.”

When it opens, the building will create space for approximately 500 more students at the South Okanagan-Similkameen campus in Penticton. Donna Lomas, regional dean for the South Okanagan, said that they are on schedule for the construction to be finished by the March 31 deadline.

“We have a June 6 date. How about that? Isn’t that concrete?” said Lomas, who has overseen the process and construction of the building over the course of the last two years. “We will have classes running on June 6 in the new building.”

Over the course of April and May, she said, the building will be set up for the students, with equipment and furniture being moved into the shops and classrooms. Then, Lomas said, the pre-apprentice electrical and the pre-apprentice refrigeration and air conditioning will be getting a chance to go in and start taking classes in the facility.

“We won’t have a lot of programming in the building over the summer but we will have some,” Lomas said. “We’re starting slowly, but we’re hoping to have an active summer and test everything and have it all so it will be fully operational in September.”

The college also plans to have the new cafeteria and new gymnasium spaces up and running over the summer.

“We have a couple of little conferences and workshops happening in July and the cafeteria is slated to be up and running,” said Lomas, who admits to having mixed feelings about the construction phase of the project coming to an end.

“It’s been such an amazing process and I’ve learned so much that it’s kind of sad now when I start to see equipment leaving the site,” she said. “We’re all very anxious to get in and get new things going. On the one hand it has been a great process … but on the other hand it’s going to be great to have these new facilities.”