A meeting of Fort Smith town councillors on March 14, 2023 is seen in a still from a municipal webcast.
The Town of Fort Smith will bring back a committee dedicated to preserving the community’s voice within the transformation of Aurora College into a polytechnic university.
Fort Smith is the formal headquarters of Aurora College. In 2018, when the NWT government said significant change at the college was needed, the town set up a committee to “ensure that Fort Smith continues to be the home of post-secondary education” in the territory.
More recently, that committee has lain dormant.
This week, however, town councillors said it needed to make a comeback.
“The meeting we had recently with the president really showed that we do need further dialogue with the college, the board and other people involved in making decisions on the future of the polytechnic,” Councillor Mike Couvrette said at a Tuesday meeting of council.
Couvrette was referring to a meeting between Fort Smith community leaders and college president Glenda Vardy Dell, in which – among other discussions – Vardy Dell challenged the town to help do a better job of convincing students to study there. The town’s deputy mayor subsequently said he felt some of her comments had been “unpresidential.”
“A small committee of our councillors to address … key issues is appropriate at this time,” said Couvrette, putting forward a motion – which was carried – that the post-secondary education committee “be revitalized.”
Couvrette, Kevin Campbell and deputy mayor Jay MacDonald look set to be the reactivated committee’s initial members.
Couvrette envisages the committee as a group tasked with presenting Fort Smith’s interests to the college’s new board.
He told colleagues the committee could help ensure Fort Smith does not “see any degrading of the level of post-secondary education being offered at our campus, such as being relegated to just a trades college.”
MacDonald said restarting the committee needed to be a priority.
“This is really time sensitive,” he said. “I don’t think we have the ability to wait a month or six weeks to get started. It’s something that we need to move forward now.
“I think things within the college are going to start to move as the board of governors gets up and running, so I don’t think we want to miss that opportunity.”
Town senior administrator Cynthia White said Aurora College’s new board – appointed earlier this month – will meet in Fort Smith for the first time on May 2 and 3. The board is expected to meet with town leadership at the same time.
The town’s council is expected to finalize its revitalized committee next week.
Separately on Wednesday, the NWT government said former premier Joe Handley would be the new chair of the Aurora College board.
Handley was among 13 board members announced last week