UPDATE – Three Buoys formally announces plans for Mara Lake College in Sicamous

Stalled resort development project to find new life as post-secondary educational facility.

Three Buoy's stalled condominium project on Riverside Ave. may find new life as the Shuswap's next college campus

Updated Feb. 14

Could Sicamous become the Shuswap’s next college campus town?

It appears to be heading in that direction with the proposed construction of Mara Lake College.

Three Buoys’ Todd Millar acknowledges there’s already been a lot of buzz behind the scenes about the company’s stalled resort development on Riverside Avenue becoming a post-secondary institution. Talk moved beyond closed doors Wednesday morning when Millar, at the district committee of the whole meeting, formally announced Three Buoys’ intentions to make Mara Lake College a reality.

Although a college in name, Millar refers to the proposed institution as an education and wellness centre, that would primarily serve as a preparatory school, but also offer post-secondary courses.

“When I think about wellness, it’s public swimming, it’s a spa, it’s a group services entity, it’s a banquet facility… when you think about that wellness piece, I’m not talking about something that’s way out there. it’s something core to your community,” Millar told the committee.

The preparatory school component of the school would be its anchor. Envisioned is a 120-dorm facility that would allow students to live and learn onsite. A proposed mission statement for the school is to “transform adults seeking a university education into students destined for academic success through mastery of first-year studies.”

Explaining the origins of the concept, Millar went back to 2009 when Three Buoys was in the process of building a 35-condo resort. Then the global economic meltdown occurred. This, Millar explained, had a severe impact on the recreation/ resort industry and, subsequently, left the company sitting on an incomplete $10 million investment with a questionable future.

“I can tell you, from all the reviews we’ve done and all the industry experts we’ve talked to, that industry is in a sad situation and, quite frankly, all of the current stats I’m seeing, on a North American basis, it will take five years at 2006 selling rates to sell out or get rid of all of the existing inventory that’s in the market place,” said Millar. “If you understand that comment, you would say the last thing you want to do today is build a resort.”

Eventually, Three Buoys came around to the idea of creating an educational facility. Millar told the News that a different concept was initially envisioned, a resort school where students would live, learn and work onsite. But he said this brought the focus back to an industry that’s having a difficult time. So, the company began looking at other educational options. Millar says Three Buoys spoke with any expert in the education field willing to speak with them, and over time the prep-school concept began taking shape.

“The more we introduced ourselves to the educational industry, we kept coming back to this recurring theme – there seems to be a need for preparing high school kids for their next venture into post-secondary education,” says Millar.

“As we started to explore the different schools that are out there and what makes them successful, the recurring theme was you do them onsite, you do them in kind of a dormitory-style living, with specific courses that are geared toward the ability to transfer to post-secondary schools of your choice…”

Three Buoys, Millar explained, would provide the “hardware,” the building and infrastructure, while the “software,” the academic components, would be provided by an established educational institution. For that, the company has been in discussion Okanagan College. Jim Barmby, dean for the Shuswap/Revelstoke region, says the college has been exploring the possibility for some sort of partnership with Three Buoys.

“There’s nothing on paper – we’re just exploring some possibilities and we want to act in the best interest of the people of Sicamous, which is in our region,” says Barmby.

Millar recognizes that such a sustainable, educational institution could have numerous beneficial spin-offs for Sicamous. Mayor Darrell Trouton is in agreement.

“The Three Buoys project is inspirational in a way,” says Trouton. “The educational facility that they’re talking about, Mara Lake College, opens an opportunity for visionaries to seek so many opportunities in Sicamous.”

Construction/reconstruction of the facility is expected to begin in late 2012, early 2013, with the opening tentatively slated for either the fall of 2013 or the spring of 2014.