News / London

Update: London council refuses $10 million Fanshawe College Kingsmill's deal

It has been confirmed that London city council refused a $10 million funding request by Fanshawe College Tuesday night.

During the meeting, Mayor Joni Baechler and city clerk Cathy Saunders said the question would return to the next council meeting. It was believed the 7-7 vote on Fanshawe's request for help to buy the Kingsmill's department store was merely a stalemate, so the issue could return to council Sept. 2.

At first, it was being treated as an “undecided matter,” said Baechler.

But, after discussions with Saunders, she later said the vote meant the application was a refusal.

"City clerk will be correcting her directive that the Fanshawe application return next council," the mayor said in an email. "She advises the issue has been refused."

The city had already put $10 million in the pot for the Kingsmill’s purchase. Fanshawe planned on investing $46 million and came to council to ask for $10 million more.

Council had a heated, angry debate over the issue that included shouting and disagreements over procedure.

Councillor after councillor chose a side, with a variety of reasons given for support or opposition to the deal.

Chief among the “no” votes was Coun. Joe Swan, who reiterated his opinion that the city isn’t in the business of funding schools.

Swan said everyone in the room supports Fanshawe, but he has been disappointed there has been “little support or interest” from the province.

Others had their own reasons for shelving the deal, with Coun. Stephen Orser advocating the $10 million be used to keep Lorne Avenue Public School open.

There was plenty of passion in favour of the Fanshawe project.

Baechler appealed to colleagues to say “yes,” with her speech inspiring applause from the public watching in the gallery.

“We frequently hear about jobs, jobs, jobs at city hall,” Baechler said. “I’ve heard that time after time. Yet this guarantees us jobs.”

The mayor and several others stressed that the city had invited Fanshawe to draw up proposals for a centre downtown. It already has 400 students along Dundas Street in its new digital and performing arts building. Buying Kingsmill’s carries the potential of adding 1,600 more by 2018.

“Our downtown is our calling card to the world,” Coun. Matt Brown said, appealing for a “yes” vote. “It’s also an economic engine.”

Coun. Denise Brown said people had approached her and asked that she vote against the deal.

“I think the province has to come to the table,” she said. “Education is a provincial issue.”

The decision was so tight that city manager Art Zuidema decided to intervene. He spoke up for Fanshawe’s plan, saying it’s a “shovel-ready” project and of significant benefit to London.

The risks were low, he said, and the dividends high. Chief city planner John Fleming was also behind it, and even came to council on his vacation to see the decision made.

Councillors who voted in favour were: Baechler, Russell Monteith, Nancy Branscombe, Matt Brown, Paul Hubert, Harold Usher and Judy Bryant.

Those against it were: Bud Polhill, Bill Armstrong, Swan, Orser, Paul Van Meerbergen, Deinse Brown and Sandy White.

Fanshawe College president Peter Devlin said after the meeting that the college would be considering its next step.

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