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COLUMN: Great schools make a city
Simon Fraser University has been part of Surrey for 10 years, and it has been a very important factor in the revitalization of the city centre.
SFU took over the Technical University of B.C. 10 years ago in one of the more inspired moves from the early days of the Gordon Campbell BC Liberal government. Tech U was not well-known or recognized, and had struggled to gain prominence. It was also quite narrowly focused and its costs were out of line with its achievements.
Simon Fraser already had a history of operating a successful satellite campus, with its downtown Vancouver campus. It was a natural fit, and the fact that Surrey had so many university-aged students (with many more in the pipeline) made it a very good place for B.C.’s second best-known university to expand to. When it arrived here, SFU had just 550 students. It now has about 6,000.
The two proved to be a great fit. SFU greatly expanded the courses it was offering and its proximity to SkyTrain made it relatively easy for students to go from Surrey to Burnaby and back, and take courses at both the main campus and in Surrey. My daughter, an SFU student today, does just that.
Community leaders had long wanted a full-fledged university in Surrey. Kwantlen Polytechnic University offers great courses but 10 years ago, its days as a full-scale university were just beginning. SFU, by contrast, already had 35 years experience and had developed a good reputation.
SFU and Kwantlen don’t compete with each other in the way businesses would. Rather, they complement each other in many ways, and the relationship between the two has been one of respect.
When SFU came to Surrey, it had a good location and an iconic campus, but not much else. It had a good reputation. What it needed was support from the community, the city and potential students. It has received all of those.
It has revitalized the city centre with the infusion of students in the area. It offers a wide variety of courses and many great opportunities for the future. Its research opportunities are of particular importance. It gives a new incentive to Surrey students to take post-secondary courses. Its success has been instrumental in convincing the city to invest more heavily in the Whalley area, with a new library and now a new city hall under construction.
SFU president Andrew Petter, a former B.C. MLA and cabinet minister, is well aware of the importance of having a good relationship with the community. There is little in the way of a town-gown divide in Surrey, as is the case in some communities.
The coming of SFU to the area has sparked a number of major residential developments in Whalley, and there will be many more in the future.
Surrey is very proud of SFU and its success. Mayor Dianne Watts and council members cite it often, and from a planning point of view, it is an ideal anchor in a city centre. It also makes the SkyTrain system work more efficiently, as students come to SFU from closer to the Vancouver city core, making for stronger two-way traffic.
On Thursday, SFU Surrey is hosting an open house from 4 to 8 p.m. at the campus, 13450 102 Ave., which is now an astonishing 350,000 square feet in size. Those who haven’t visited before will be amazed at what Surrey now has in its midst.
Great cities have great institutions, and SFU is one of those. It is playing an important role in Surrey today and will play a great role in its future.
Frank Bucholtz writes Thursdays for the Peace Arch News. He is the editor of the Langley Times.