BWG considered for Canadian International School

By Miriam King, Bradford Times

The Town of Bradford West Gwillimbury is being considered for a possible  campus of the Canadian International School System-Ontario – and on October 3, Hugh McKeown, CIS Canadian Representative in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, was in Council explaining what that could mean for the local economy.

McKeown noted that parents abroad are choosing Canada as a place to send their children to study, in part because it is known to be a safe and tolerant country, in part because it is good preparation for entry into University or College. “They believe this is an investment, for their children,” he said.

In fact, 2015 statistics show that there are 353,000 international students in Canada – 49% of whom are studying in Ontario, some at local schools like Bradford District High School.

CIS already has 5 schools that utilize the Ontario curriculum “right from Junior Kindergarten”, taught by Ontario-certified teachers. Now it's planning to build two more schools – one in Hanoi, and one in Ontario. With that in mind, CIS has been investigating a number of possible locations, including BWG.

What the school is looking for is proximity to Toronto, an attractive natural environment, “and a quiet community for students to learn,” McKeown said. “Many parents want to choose a community like this, rather than downtown Toronto.”

A new state-of-the-art school would initially offer a private educational complex for Grades 9 to 12, with capacity for 1,000 students – but the project is more than a single school.

Plans also propose 2 dormitories, each housing 500 students; an Elementary School; a horticultural centre, to grow both flowers and vegetables; three “guest” apartment blocks, to house visiting parents; an Arts Centre and a sports complex, including both outdoor and indoor facilities ranging from a stadium to an indoor Olympic-size swimming pool. A Conference Centre would welcome delegations from abroad as well as local organizations. Finally, the school envisions construction of a Teacher Training Centre, along the lines of OISE.

Total land area needed is approximately 100 acres.

“We want to be part of the community,” McKeown said, noting that the facilities would be shared with the community, whenever possible.

As for the economic impact, he cited statistics estimating that the average international student spends $40,000 per year in Canada – generating $5.729 billion in 2015. Locally, the school will provide an $80 to $100 million boost to the economy, through its 300 new jobs, day and summer school, guest houses, conference centre, and a billeting program that would pay local families to provide a warm and welcoming home for up to 10% of the international students. “And you can bet it will affect tourism,” he said.

On top of that, the 1000 secondary school students will each have to engage in 40 hours of volunteer community service, just like any Ontario high school student – and “that's another really interesting opportunity for the community.”

CIS is looking for a municipality that is a good fit, that is enthusiastic about the project, and willing to move it forward.

“It is an exciting opportunity,” said Mayor Rob Keffer, thanking McKeown for his presentation. “Bradford West Gwillimbury is known for its diversity and reaching out. It is a wonderful fit.”

“It's certainly an exciting opportunity for you and CIS, but also for us,” agreed Councillor Gary Baynes. “Work with us, and we'll make this happen.”

“We're close to the airport, we have the land – we want to make this happen,” said Councillor Raj Sandhu, asking about timelines for development. He was told there were no firm timelines, but CIS hopes to choose a site this fall.

Town staff was praised for  contacting and working with Canadian International Schools, and there were more promises of co-operation and support.

“I think there is an opportunity to work together on this,” said Deputy Mayor James Leduc. “This is exactly what this community needs – an educational institution. We're excited about your proposal.”

Council support was unanimous.