No strings attached to Okanagan College donation

College foundation close to matching this year's $500,000 donation from Jim Pattison

Carleton University made headlines in July when it was revealed a wealthy businessman effectively bought control of its new school of political management with his $15 million donation.

Jim Pattison didn’t win any such influence with the $2.5 million he pledged last year to his namesake building at the Penticton campus of Okanagan College.

“There aren’t any strings here,” said college president Jim Hamilton.

At least not like the ones at Carleton.

The terms of the Jim Pattison Foundation’s gift to the college are spelled out in a letter of agreement obtained by the Western News through a freedom of information request.

The letter explains that the full amount will be paid out in five equal, annual installments of $500,000 that the college’s fundraisers must match. Fundraising overages or underages can be applied to future years.

The gift was also contingent upon a provincial naming committee allowing the new building to be called the Jim Pattison Centre For Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation, and approving the accompanying signage.

Finally, the college is expected to use the money to leverage funds from government and other donors to launch a new program in sustainable construction management technology.

Those terms presented “a wide-ranging opportunity for us,” Hamilton said.

The Okanagan College Foundation opened discussions with Pattison’s group in March 2011 and the agreement was signed seven months later.

“You don’t walk in the door and ask somebody for $2.5 million and get it the same day,” Hamilton said. “There’s a process of cultivation.”

And besides cash, the gift also gave the school some clout.

“Having the Pattison name associated with this project has vaulted us into a whole new level of access to other donors,” Hamilton said.

As of last week, the college foundation had raised $483,000 on the year, according to executive director Kathy Butler.

“We’re pretty confident that we’re actually going to exceed that $500,00 mark for this year,” she said.

The bulk of the $28 million cost of the Centre For Excellence was covered by contributions from the provincial and federal governments. The college’s portion, $5 million, was borrowed. Hamilton said Pattison’s donation can also be used to pay down that debt if necessary.

But the focus right now is funding the new sustainable construction program, which it’s hoped will begin in September 2013 at the new building. Startup costs alone are estimated at $734,000, but that’s not unusual for technology programs, Hamilton said.

The announcement of the $2.5 million donation was timed to coincide with the December 2011 grand opening of the Centre For Excellence. Pattison, a B.C. business icon who spent part of his childhood in Penticton, told reporters he was attracted to the project because of its focus on teaching sustainability.

It’s still the biggest-ever gift to a B.C. college, noted Hamilton, who couldn’t speak to the nature of donor agreements at other schools, because fundraising for colleges is “relatively new territory.”

At Ottawa’s Carleton University, the $15 million donation from Calgary businessman Clayton Riddell entitled his foundation to appoint three of five people to a steering committee that was to handle everything from hiring to curriculum development at the new school of political management.

Reform Party founder Preston Manning was then tapped to chair the committee, but after terms of the 2010 donor agreement were made public, the deal was amended to give the committee more of an advisory role.