College cashes in

Jim Pattison makes $2.5 million donation to Okanagan College

  • Dec. 13, 2011 3:00 p.m.
Premier Christy Clark applauds in the direction of businessman Jim Pattison following the unveiling of the new sign on the Okanagan College Centre of Excellence Monday at the official opening of the new building at the Penticton campus.

Premier Christy Clark applauds in the direction of businessman Jim Pattison following the unveiling of the new sign on the Okanagan College Centre of Excellence Monday at the official opening of the new building at the Penticton campus.

Okanagan College had four words for Penticton on Monday: class is in session.

The Penticton campus threw open its doors to unveil the Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation on Monday, an opening ceremony that drew political leaders from all levels as well as fundraising and business leaders from across the province to mark a new age in the region’s environmental and high-tech capabilities.

None drew more applause or standing ovations, however, than when the centre’s main benefactor, B.C. business magnate Jim Pattison, took to the stage.

“I don’t know any place that’s better to live in. We were very happy to support and help what the folks were doing here with this facility,” he said, telling the crowd that a tour confirmed his suspicions about the centre: “You hear a lot of talk about sustainability and environment, but this place is it.”

Having grown up in the Okanagan, Pattison donated $2.5 million to the centre over five years, with the caveat that the Okanagan College foundation match that figure in fundraising. He urged Penticton to answer the call.

“It isn’t the amount you give, it’s the fact that you support the community,” Pattison said.

Okanagan College president Jim Hamilton beamed from the podium as he welcomed the crowd’s enthusiasm, even if he felt he was “quite possibly the happiest person in the room.”

The federal government chipped in $13.5 for the project in addition to B.C.’s $9.1 million under the knowledge infrastructure program. But the private donation tips the scales in terms of more than just funding, according to Lance Kayfish, the chair of Okanagan College’s board of governors.

“Having your name on this facility is a statement that sustainability is good for business,” he said to Pattison. “As we’ve gone on in the process, I’ve watched the moments of skepticism over the centre’s green goals turn into awe.”

Many jaws dropped on Monday as the centre’s doors were thrown open to the community for more than just the culinary students’ wares for sampling: participants were toured around the facility showcasing the facility built entirely from B.C. wood, save for the gymnasium floor that was sourced from Ontario.

It incorporates cutting-edge design for sustainability: the building is ventilated and cooled using the natural flow of air across cool concrete floors and exhausted through solar chimneys. The building is expected to use 65 kilowatt hours of energy per square metre per year —  a far cry from the 250 kWh a building with a similar footprint would draw.

All of the mechanical and electrical services are exposed where possible to demonstrate what technology is used, becoming a teaching tool in what is being coined as a “living lab” for sustainability.

Premier Christy Clark said the centre’s opening was well-timed. Her fall trade mission to India and China revealed enormous demand for natural resources, which means the province is “inextricably linked” to a broader array of markets.

“When you look at the United States and Europe, we are so fortunate to be facing them across the Pacific Ocean. China and India, they are vitally interested in our natural resources here in British Columbia,” she said, adding that the centre could play a strategic role in trade overseas.

“Here in the Okanagan, you have the potential to lead Canada. That means jobs right here at home: smart jobs, high-tech, that support the middle class economy.”

Being ahead of the environmental curve also positions B.C. companies better. “Sustainability is not just a burden to the economy. It can grow the economy and grow business, and help to cut costs,” she said.

Dan Albas, MP for Okanagan Coquihalla, said he was pleased, as politician and former student, with the direction the college was heading.

“For me, as a student, I took Canadian history, so I’m really glad to see we’re building on our future as well,” he said.

Ross Saunders is a second-year criminal and social justice student at the Penticton campus, as well as the council chair of the Okanagan College Students’ Union. He told the crowd that watching the environmental initiatives unfold before him was an eye-opening experience.

“I saw post-secondary education in British Columbia take a bold new step,” he said. “This turns our campus into a teaching tool.”

He said having facilities closer to home will inspire more to pursue higher education, which he felt was “a right, not a privilege.”