Teachers’ college touted for city hall
How about 300 Dufferin Ave. as a place to learn - and teach - instead of a place to pay taxes?
At the heart of early plans for a downtown London campus that Western University will bring to city hall this month, is the school's faculty of education.
More than 1,000 students and 100 staff in what's now city hall and Centennial Hall; the idea gets an A-plus from Mayor Joe Fontana, who's eager to see part of his vision for downtown London, creating an education focus in the core, come into focus.
The university also is considering a health clinic in partnership with its medical school and other faculties.
"There's no doubt that Western coming downtown will be a key piece in the redevelopment of our downtown and the city as a whole," said Fontana, shown at right in Reg Cooper Square. "That would be an incredible boost."
Western is keen to establish a greater downtown presence.
The plan - a long-range one, at least four years from fruition if council eventually accepts it - could include the following details, according to Western officials:
The city would hand over city hall, all asbestos removed, at no cost.
Centennial Hall also would be taken over by the school, which isn't interested, at this point, in the adjacent Centennial House apartment complex.
Western's faculty of education would anchor the proposal, with as many as 1,200 full-time undergrad and graduate students.
The school also is considering a health clinic, in partnership between the Schulich medical school and the faculty of health sciences.
Acknowledging the ultimate decision rests with council - these are their buildings, after all - a Western official says the core campus would strengthen the university's ties to the city.
"The plan is one we could execute if it's a direction the city wants to move in," said Janice Deakin, Western's provost and academic vice-president.
"It creates a different way in which the city will know Western. It's less intimidating than coming through those big gates. This is a really unique opportunity."
But the cost implications for city hall are significant.
Not including possible off-$setting revenue sources, a 2011 staff report estimated a Western takeover over of city hall and Centennial Hall would cost the city as much as $150 million - much of that for the construction of a new city hall and concert facility.
While the concept is exciting, Coun. Joni Baechler is preaching a cautious approach given the scope of the potential project - noting, in particular, the city has no clear source of funding.
"We're excited about the idea; we welcome the university around the downtown, (but) the concern about the financial piece of it is the biggest hurdle that has to be overcome," she said. "Right now, there is no plan."
But a proposed five-year economic-development surtax, pulled off the table for 2012, could be an option, said Coun. Joe Swan.
"We're setting out here to really transform London's economy and it won't be for the weak of heart," said Swan, who chairs the council investment and economic prosperity committee that will receive Western's plan.
Western's proposal comes after Fanshawe College finalized a pact with city hall to establish a school of applied and performance arts in the core.
Baechler wonders if a different Western faculty, perhaps its music school, might be a better complement to the core than education.
But Fontana says he hopes the Western plan could help make London "the centre of education in the country."
Western's education faculty is now housed at Althouse College. The future of Althouse is unclear should council move forward with the plan, though one university official said Western has a lot of space needs and the university will assess potential uses for the building.