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Vaughan Rising Podcast – Niagara University: Inside a Post-Secondary Location Decision

This blog is a summary of the Vaughan Rising Podcast Season 1 Episode 5 by the host, Michelle Samson. For more detail, listen to the full episode (links below).

About the episode

Niagara University is an American post-secondary institution that has been offering professional education programs in Ontario for more than 30 years. After a year-long searching process, the university found a permanent Canadian location within Vaughan’s emerging downtown – the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre. Niagara University President Father James Maher gives us a lesson in site selection and why Vaughan was the place to be for the university.

Thoughts from the host

For the first episodes of this initial season, we’ve looked at different aspects of Vaughan’s booming industrial, real estate and economic opportunities. In this latest episode, we’re looking at a site selection project: Niagara University’s search for a new Canadian home base.

Niagara is an American post-secondary institution that has been offering professional education programs here in Ontario since the 1980s.

The main campus in Lewiston, New York has a population of 3,500 students in a broad range of programs. In Ontario, the school has around 300 students in two programs: a bachelor of professional studies in education and a master of science in education-educational leadership.

For years, Niagara ran their programs out of the public district school board of Durham and the Catholic district school boards of Huron Perth, Bruce-Grey, York Region, Toronto and Halton. The time had come to find a permanent facility. After a year-long search, the university landed in Vaughan’s emerging downtown – the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre – making it the first ever university in both Vaughan and York Region.

To find out why Vaughan was the winning location, I sat down with Niagara University’s President, Father James Maher.

Father Maher explains that the university’s evolution of engaging the growing network of 5,400 Canadian alumni began with encouragement from the university’s board.

The plan of action for this next phase was for the university to establish some roots and find its own physical space in Ontario. They had a student-focused vision for this space, wanting it to be easy to access by car and train, have the best technology, foster a warm and welcoming environment and integrate well with the community.

With this vision in mind, the university began the search. During the process, they came across Vaughan’s Mayor, Maurizio Bevilacqua, and an opportunity to secure space in the Vaughan Metropolitan Centre’s Expo City development.

Niagara University’s Director of Ontario Administration, Dr. Vince Rinaldo, facilitated some of these discussions with Mayor Bevilacqua. Dr. Rinaldo brought back a strong case for a permanent location in Vaughan based on data, history and future opportunity. According to Father Maher, “We had to hold trustees back because they were so excited.”

Specific selling points included Vaughan’s growth and momentum, high citizen satisfaction and diversity.

The deal was shaping up, but not done yet. Mayor Bevilacqua and the developer behind Expo City, Mario Cortellucci, went to work to confirm all the essential details.

Both Mayor Bevilacqua and Mr. Cortellucci were invited to the main campus in Lewiston and used the opportunity to build the relationship and convey the City’s strong support for the project. The two parties clicked and knew the venture would be positive.

Niagara did consider other sites that could have worked, but, when they found Vaughan and the Expo City site, Father Maher says they knew it was the right fit.

Niagara University’s formal grand opening was celebrated in September, but the facility had been open for nearly a year before that. Father Maher says their experience in Vaughan has surpassed expectations. They have an inviting space for students, parents and alumni, and they’re excited about the future.

Father Maher plans to spend a lot more time in Ontario and Vaughan over the coming years. He hasn’t had much opportunity to sample Vaughan’s local food scene yet but would love some recommendations!

This episode was recorded in the green-screen room at the Civic Centre Resource Library. For more information on Vaughan Public Libraries’ creation spaces, visit vaughanpl.info/shareit.