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UPDATED: District of Squamish 'deeply concerned' about Quest University deal

Municipality says the 'agreement does not reflect the District's interests'
Quest University campus.
Academic building on the Quest University campus.

The District says that a recently announced deal between Quest University and Primacorp Ventures requires "more due diligence" and has elicited "grave concerns" from Squamish's mayor.

Quest has opted to pay off its millions in debts by selling off its campus to Primacorp. It will then lease the facilities back. The sale still needs approval from the courts, and a hearing is expected to take place from Thursday to Friday.

Earlier this year, the university sought protection under the Companies' Creditors Arrangement Act, or CCAA, shielding it from bankruptcy while it financially restructures itself. The court granted this protection and it is set to last until late December.

The request for protection was initiated after the Vanchorverve Foundation, Quest's biggest lender, called in its $23.4-million debt.

"We are deeply concerned that the [Primacorp] agreement signed does not reflect the District's interests, creates an uphill runway for Quest that will make it difficult for it to be viable given the ongoing challenges related to the pandemic, possibly reduces student refunds and faculty severances as unsecured creditors, and leaves a for-profit company controlling the lands, instead of a university of significant standing should Quest not succeed," said Mayor Karen Elliott in a news release sent out Nov. 10.

"We know there are other proponents, which include Capilano University, actively pursuing an agreement with Quest which would more closely align with the vision we have supported for those lands for many, many years."

The District said that during the university's start, through various agreements, the municipality gave Quest significant breaks to help the school get off the ground, and that these contributions were made with the understanding the university would bring social and economic benefits to the community.

"There is no assurance that the spirit of our original agreements will be honoured under this agreement with Primacorp," Elliott continued.

According to the municipality, the assistance came in the form of an expedited change to the Official Community Plan and Zoning Bylaw, the waiving of Development Cost Charges on private development until 2015, waived property taxes for the University, and an investment of over $5 million in infrastructure to bring municipal services to the University.

"We know Quest staff and the Board of Governors have the best of intentions, but I believe more due diligence is required and I have grave concerns over the future of the university's brand, reputation and ultimate success, and will continue to engage with Quest leadership to ensure our voice is heard," said Elliott.

In a response to the District, Quest’s president acknowledged the municipality’s role in the school’s founding, but said that the current proposal is the best option available.

“We are deeply grateful to the District for their support to Quest, historically and today. We could not have achieved our academic success to date without that,” said George Iwama, in an emailed statement to The Chief.

“Working with various proposals over many months, it was the conclusion of staff, faculty, students and our board that this proposal offered was the best path forward for Quest. We are looking forward to proceeding with the steps before us, and engaging our community in Squamish as well as our students and alumni around the world, in the process. We are completely committed to the vision and mission of our founder, Dr. David Strangway, in all that we do.”

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