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Holland College is expanding its operations in downtown Summerside with a $9.4-million renovation to the Waterfront Mall creating the Holland College Summerside Waterfront Campus. The project is a partnership between the college and the federal and provincial governments. The federal government, through the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, will be investing $1 million to assist with the renovations. The province, through the Department of Innovation and Advanced Learning, is also investing $1 million to the project. Friday's announcement confirmed months' long speculation that Holland College had purchased the mall and created a wave of excitement for the revitalization of the city's downtown core. Michel O'Grady, vice-president of Holland College, sees the campus and its Summerside location as a perfect fit.

"It's an ideal location for a college campus," he said. "It's in close proximity to our marine training centre. There's all kinds of space - a beautiful downtown waterfront location close to all kinds of amenities and services and we felt it was a good place for students and would enhance the learning experience for students. "We have lots of space here, sufficient space to accommodate our training, to accommodate some of the tenants who have already indicated that would like to stay and I would suspect we will have additional space for new tenants who would like to co-locate here with us." It's believed the Price Chopper, liquor store and Home Furniture store will remain at the location. While some tenants may remain, the whole property is getting a facelift.The mall interior will be completely renovated, the front of the building will be refaced and the area will be landscaped to provide a campus atmosphere for about 230 students.

The campus will consist of 157,000 square feet, including 37,000 square fee of commercial space on 11.5 acres of land. The new campus will be ready for the 2012-13 academic year. O'Grady said there are no plans to expand the waterfront campus once it is completed. "It terms of the square footage we feel this is a good fit for us. It is a matter of customizing the space to be suitable for our training programs but no we don't see the need to expand the building itself.

"He said dormitories are not in the current plan, but there may be an opportunity there for the private sector to provide some type of accommodations. Summerside Mayor Basil Stewart sees the new campus as an economic shot in the arm for the struggling downtown city core.

"This new campus of Holland College will be a tremendous boost to the downtown here in Summerside, to the economy of Summerside as well as Prince County," the mayor said. "It will be a great boost to the construction industry. There will be many construction jobs during the renovation and it will certainly generate more business for downtown. But most importantly it will be a great education institution for many students right here in Summerside and Prince County and for those coming in from outside as well." Stewart sees the new campus as a means of slowing the brain drain from the area and keeping young people living and working in the community and county.

"We know from recent studies when 70 per cent of the students leave to go to university from Prince County about 70 per cent of them do not return." Revenue Canada Minister Gail Shea said an investment in education is an investment in the future."Our government understands the significant role post-secondary institutions, like Holland College, make to growing and sustaining our economy by equipping Canadians to participate in - and contribute to the Island's skilled workforce," Shea said.

Premier Robert Ghiz said the course being offered at the Holland College Summerside Waterfront Campus will provide students with skills they need, particularly to stay and work on the Island."Skilled trades like those being taught in Summerside have been identified as one of the most promising areas of economic growth on Prince Edward Island," the premier said. "The government of Prince Edward Island is very happy to invest in training that will provide opportunities for Islanders while spurring new activity in downtown Summerside," Holland College will be moving programs from the Aerospace and Motive Power centres at Slemon Park to the new waterfront campus.The Atlantic Police Academy will remain in the building it currently occupies at Slemon Park and will expand into the vacant Aerospace Centre following the relocation of the programs in September of 2012.