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Quest University lands bought by Capilano University in Squamish deal

Capilano University and Quest deal enhances education prospects in Squamish, with 100 students expected on campus in 2024, and 380 in the future.

Capilano University announced this morning that the post-secondary institution is purchasing the former Quest University lands and buildings in Squamish.

The site will become a Squamish campus of CapU.

The president of Capilano University, Paul Dangerfield, and the Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills, Selina Robinson, announced the sale at a news conference at the former Quest campus in Squamish on Wednesday, Aug. 16.

In British Columbia, higher education falls under the jurisdiction of the provincial ministry.

In a release, CapU said it reached a $63.2-million deal with the land owner, Primacorp Ventures, for the 18-acre purpose-built property. The purchase was made possible by $48 million in funding from the provincial government.

There will be 100 students at the Squamish CapU campus in 2024, with a total of 380 students down the road. CapU said it is looking at options to offer housing on campus for students.

“This is a spectacularly exciting day,” said Robinson at the announcement, adding it is an "amazing opportunity" for Squamish and the Sea to Sky Corridor.

Wilson Williams (Sxwíxwtn), spokesperson for the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) expressed support for the move in a news release.

"The Sḵwx̱wú7mesh Úxwumixw (Squamish Nation) has worked closely with Capilano University for many years, and we are pleased to support the return of in-person learning to the District of Squamish," said Williams. 

"The new campus will provide opportunities for our youth in Squamish to seek post-secondary education close to home. We look forward to continuing discussions with Capilano University about how to best serve our members and how we can help Indigenize the university's programs."

Former student questions lack of consultation

This sale comes just a few months after Quest University indefinitely shut down its academic program after the 2023 graduation due to financial troubles and about half a year since the university was listed for sale.

The price of the land and buildings were subject to a non-disclosure agreement in February but were assessed at nearly $89 million by BC Assessment in July 2022. Primacorp paid roughly $43 million for the land and buildings in December 2020.

Quest alumni and founder of the Save Quest campaign, Jake Henderson, wrote to Robinson and Premier David Eby in the hours leading up to the announcement, urging the B.C. government to reconsider.

“I have concerns that the provincial government has not had sufficient time to consider whether these previously allocated funds will cover the actual costs of Capilano University's prospective transition,” he wrote. “I have concerns that the public has not had an opportunity to provide comment on this intended use of public funds.”

He indicated that the design of the buildings was unsuitable for large classes. Ultimately, he suggested the government lease land back to Quest at a “reasonable rate,” with payments directed to Capilano University, while offering the Quest curriculum through Capilano.

Sale a 'positive for the community'

On the other hand, the president and vice-chancellor of Quest University, Arthur Coren, called Capilano a “positive” for the Squamish community.

“Capilano has long been a friend of Quest. Prior to the insolvency proceedings in 2020, Capilano was very supportive in a number of ways,” he wrote in an email to The Squamish Chief.

“After our February 2023 announcement that Quest would cease academic operations, several of our students transferred to CapU. They also serve as the official repository of transcript records for our alumni. We believe that Capilano’s return to Squamish is positive for the community and wish them success as they ready the campus and prepare to welcome new learners.”

The Quest University purchase is another example of Capilano University making its return to Squamish. Capilano agreed to a $5 million deal with Oceanfront Squamish in 2022 for two acres of property downtown when construction is complete.

That deal is now off, according to a release.

Capilano used to have a campus in Squamish located near Howe Sound Secondary, but relocated in 2015 due to declining enrolment.

The relocated smaller school offered classes for a time but closed in-person learning shortly after.

The new campus will welcome students studying early childhood care and education (ECCE) and literacy programming, followed by arts, science and business programs, as well as outdoor recreation and programming with the Sḵwx̱wú7mesh and Lil'wat Nations in September 2024, the release states.

In addition, the school will look at opening a 74-space child care centre on the campus property.

Officials said that minor renovations to the property will include upgrading some classrooms to accommodate CapU's needs.

~With files from Bob Mackin/BIV

@squamishchief Capilano University announced purchase of Quest University on Aug. 16 in Squamish #squamishchief #questuniversity #capilano_university #capilanou #capilanouniversity #localjournalism #exploresquamish #squamishbccanada ♬ BGM with the image of the future and development - Yusuke Shimizu