Feature Story                                                                                          Sunday, December 9, 2012

 

Merry Christmas, Chilliwack

Bank of Montreal gifts Five Corners building to the University of the Fraser Valley Staff/Voice photos

 

CEPCO Chair, Bruce Van Den Brink (L), along with Mayor Sharon Gaetz and UFV President Mark Evered, unwrap the site of the new campus Friday. Below, Henry Donkers, District Manager of BMO Financial Services, presents Mark Evered with a ceremonial key to the building.

 

ignitaries tore paper off the doors to the new University of the Fraser Valley (UFV) Plaza campus Friday at Five Corners like kids on Christmas morning.

 

A few minutes earlier, Henry Donkers, who is the District VP with the Bank of Montreal (BMO) Financial Group, announced they had donated the now vacant building to UFV.

 

BMO had been situated at Five Corners on everything from planks to pavement over the last 100-years, and when the branch closure was announced, they weathered a squall of condemnation from rattled customers.

 

Discontentment soon gave way to acceptance and people have since adjusted to the bank’s new location and $1.7M state-of-the-art digs at Eagle Landing.

 

The solid, two-story building at Five Corners is the largest donation BMO has made in the province. It’s currently valued at $850,000 and will need an estimated $650,000 refit, which Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation (CEPCO) has offered to pay in order to accommodate students, faculty and staff by September 2013.

 

Gaetz said she was just as shocked as everyone else when she first got wind of the branch closing.

 

“I think all of Chilliwack kind of went ‘ah, what now?’”

 

Donkers told dignitaries and media Friday, he approached the City over a year ago and spoke with Mayor Sharon Gaetz about helping to rebuild the downtown.

 

So when he told her at the meeting that UFV wanted to take over the building, she was elated.

 

“How absolutely incredible that the University of the Fraser Valley will now be in the heart of downtown. It says something about Chilliwack's priorities, this gives me great hope for the revitalization.”

 

Earlier this year, at the opening of the beautiful new Building A at Canada Education Park, UFV President Mark Evered, said the institution was going to be growing. He wasn't kidding. The donation of the old bank building only bolsters that remark and it won’t be long before outsiders begin referring to Chilliwack as a “university town”.

 

 

Evered was grateful to the groups involved and thanked them for helping make the project a reality.

 

“Thank you for recognizing what a university brings to a community and for your confidence in our ability to bring the kind of quality programming service that will transform this piece of Chilliwack,” he said. “This community recognizes not only the educational, but the economic, the social, and cultural value that a university would bring.”

 

Speaking to reporters after the ceremony, Evered said it will give the university a chance to work with local companies in a variety of different and interesting ways.

 

“We will be looking for local partnership and synergies, benefits, employers and service providers in this area of the city.”

 

When asked about what types of programs will be offered at the new facility, he said they will be somewhat tailored for the area, such as with ElderCollege, Continuing Education and business courses. Additionally, he sees it as an informational hub in the future for people who want to learn more about careers and accessing education.

 

Evered figures parking at the facility won’t be an issue because a large number of residences are within walking distance of Five Corners, plus, he says most students will likely use public transit, adding that there is ample supply of parking in existing lots downtown.

 

“People won't have to go so far. They can walk over to the facility and take advantage of a talk, a seminar or a visiting speaker.”

 

The facility will be without the large lecture halls and classrooms that one would find in a standard college or university.

 

Evered says their model is “small classes” and gave the Clearbrook campus as an example of innovative design and planning.

 

"We can fit in a few more classes than a traditional university that might need the entire building to put in seats for 400 students," he said. “If you look at what we were able to do in Abbotsford, a similar downtown facility, we were able to fit in a number of classrooms and some offices," he said.

 

Although the new facility’s name is not yet carved into the cornerstone, Evered likes the working name “UFV Plaza”.

 

“I think it sends a signal that it is a place for people to gather,” he beamed.

 

From a business perspective, bringing a university into a downtown is never a bad idea. SFU added a campus to the 500 block of West Hastings.

 

The new downtown Chilliwack campus should mesh well with local business.

 

Brad Stuart, owner of the District Pub across the street, won't feel so alone on Five Corners come next September.

 

"Its good news that I will have one other tenant on five corners with me," he told The Voice in an e-mail Sunday. "It is a pretty small building to have many classrooms in, but any foot traffic into the downtown core is a good thing."

 

The site logistics and geography of Five Corners will make some aspects of the project challenging for planners, but the game has now been changed and a huge piece of the revitalization puzzle fits perfectly into place.

 

It’s a brave new world for UFV to put their seal on, and it does more than just breathe vibrancy into a defunct downtown — they’re making room for youth and ushering in what will be a neoteric era to come for the downtown core.

 

Now everybody is happy. The City has an anchor tenant on a block that will be seeing major redevelopment in the near future, and the mystery of what to do with the building has been officially answered.

 

If Five Corners were a body, then the new UFV Plaza campus would be the head, and the people will be it's heartbeat.

 

 

 

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