The owners of Yellowknife’s Northern United Place are trying to forecast a future without long-term tenant Aurora College as the NWT prepares for a polytechnic university.
Northern United Place currently houses the college’s Yellowknife campus. Gail Leonardis – executive director of the NWT Community Services Corporation, which owns and manages the building – says the corporation is examining its options should the college, or university, move elsewhere.
Whether or not that happens remains up in the air, Leonardis added. Firm details about the territorial government’s plans for Aurora College campuses are thin on the ground.
The territory has so far issued a 10-year vision for post-secondary education and established an advisory council featuring eight other institutions to guide the polytechnic’s creation. Where the university will be headquartered, if anywhere, has been left purposefully vague.
The issue of which campus will do what is a source of contention and speculation. Aurora College is headquartered in Fort Smith, with large campuses in Inuvik and Yellowknife. Fort Smith residents worry about the economic impact on the town if the new university is based in Yellowknife, while Yellowknife’s political leaders see the university as one of few economic bright spots in the city’s immediate future.
That uncertainty extends to Northern United Place, which will be left with a large hole in its building if Aurora College ceases to be and the university is housed elsewhere.
To address that, the NWT Community Services Corporation plans to have a consultant conduct a feasibility study for the building.
Northern United Place has 84 apartments rented to individuals and families making less than $45,000 per year. Thirty-six of those are earmarked for people aged 65 and older.
Aurora College, which rents 26,748 square feet in commercial space, provides 75 percent of the corporation’s operating revenue.
With big firms like mining companies moving out of Yellowknife, Leonardis wants a consultant to study who the new players in the city might be – and which might become a good fit for three floors of commercial space and a tower of student housing.
The college rents 40 housing units to students. The planned study will also consider whether those units could become subsidized accommodation for the general population, if students ultimately no longer need them.
“We don’t want our current tenants to be worried,” said Leonardis, saying the existing 84 apartments are not part of the feasibility study. The corporation remains committed to providing affordable housing to low-income people in Yellowknife, she said.
A request for proposals from consultants was recently published by the corporation, which wants the study to be complete by April 30 at the latest.