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RRC losing interest in outgoing cop HQ

Cost of upgrades may prove prohibitive

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Red River College's enthusiasm for acquiring the Public Safety Building has cooled significantly -- the building's condition is just too crummy.

"It would be a good location for us. I talked to the mayor a year ago," RRC president Stephanie Forsyth said.

But no one knows how much it would cost to fix the building, let alone convert it to college use, she said. "With what we hear about the structural issues, it's less likely" Red River will add the soon-to-be-vacated police station to its downtown campus, she said.

In a wide-ranging interview, Forsyth said Red River wants family housing on campus, still seeks to expand in the Exchange District, and is eyeing more degree programs.

The new culinary arts facility and student residence in the Union Bank Tower are less than three months away, Forsyth said.

"We are moving classes down there the second week of January. It's looking beautiful," she said.

On the other hand, RRC's proposed skilled trades and technology centre still has a lot of financial hurdles to overcome, despite the province's pledge of up to $60 million. It was budgeted at $175 million a year ago, a price that keeps climbing.

"Is there any part of it we might be able to salvage?" Forsyth asked.

The obvious way to go to build the massive project that could see 1,000 graduates a year to meet Manitoba's demand for skilled construction workers would be a private-public partnership -- a deal in which a private builder leases back the building to the college.

Because the province owns the Notre Dame campus, RRC can't enter into any P3 deals, Forsyth lamented.

That's the same problem holding up development of student housing on campus, particularly family housing that could accommodate aboriginal students who can't leave their families behind while coming to Winnipeg to study.

"How do we enhance aboriginal engagement? That's critical for Manitoba," Forsyth said. One way to engage aboriginal students: "We would like to see family housing on this campus."

RRC has two degree programs, in construction management and nursing, which will graduate their first students at next June's convocation.

"These are specialized areas" that don't conflict with university degree programs, Forsyth said.

She'd like to see additional degree programs in wireless technology, logistics in transportation and processing.

A bachelor of indigenous adult education tops her wish list. Faculties of education offer courses in adult aboriginal education, but not specialized degree programs, she said.

"We're being asked to seriously look at it" by the aboriginal community, Forsyth said.

Forsyth said that she has established 11 partnerships with Chinese colleges, for student and staff exchanges. "They're doing our curriculum over there" in electrical engineering and power engineering technology, and partly as a result, RRC's international enrolment has doubled to 600 students.

"The Philippines is very interested in doing something with us," she said.

Forsyth said the Notre Dame campus remains hopeful of being awarded the third indoor soccer complex the provincial government has promised. One is open at the University of Manitoba, another is under construction at the University of Winnipeg, and the third is to be built in the northern part of the city.

RED River College's food-service workers say they've been offered two unpalatable options -- take a wage rollback, or be laid off and replaced by private contractors.

The 40 workers, members of the Manitoba Government and General Employees Union, say they've met with RRC president Stephanie Forsyth and other senior officials several times this fall.

The workers allege the college told them the food-services program is losing $270,000 a year.

"It's a trying time," said Forsyth, who declined to comment. "We're under discussions with the union -- we're all concerned about the employees."

Forsyth would only say the number of people affected is less than 40.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 29, 2012 B3

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