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Okanagan College's sustainable trades building. (Okanagan College/Okanagan College)
Okanagan College's sustainable trades building. (Okanagan College/Okanagan College)

Building boom

Cash windfall drives college expansion Add to ...

In January 2009, business and community leaders had been invited to Ottawa to help the finance ministry chart a course following the economic crisis a few months previous.

James Knight, president of the Association of Canadian Community Colleges, said the first two hours of their meeting was taken up with talk of how of how little financial capital was around. He told those gathered, which included the heads of RBC, Suncor and the C.D. Howe Institute, that the country needed to be talking about investment in human capital – and post-secondary education was the best way to do it.

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The next week, he got a call to meet federal finance minister Jim Flaherty “I had a bundle of projects that we had collected and I laid those projects on his desk,” said Mr. Knight. Two months later, the Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP) program was announced.

KIP is up to $2-billion worth of investment in the country’s universities, colleges and teaching hospitals; it has contributed to 248 college-based projects. It has not only enabled 48 Quebec colleges – still using 40-year-old lab equipment – to rebuild labs to current standards, it has also helped Sheridan College and New Brunswick Community College to create entire new campuses, Nova Scotia Agricultural College to modernize its greenhouses, and several colleges around the country to rebuild roofs, upgrade ventilation systems and tackle other waiting projects.

In 2008, the Association of Canadian Community Colleges surveyed its more than 150 members and found $7-billion in needed repairs, renovations and new construction.

KIP managed to shave that number by $1.7-billion in the spring of 2009 after receiving requests for projects that all promised to be completed by the end of October. The colleges were awarded $686-million from the federal government, doubled it with matching funds mostly from the provinces, but also from reserves and fundraising efforts, with some projects using the KIP money to leverage further funds.

The idea for the large funding envelope may have partly originated from a comment ACCC President James Knight made at a meeting in January 2009.

In January 2009, business leaders had been invited to Ottawa to help the finance ministry chart a course following the economic crisis a few months previous earlier. Mr. James Knight said the first two hours of their meeting was taken up with talk of how of how little financial capital was around. Commenting on this, He turned things around and told those gathered, which included the heads of RBC, Suncor and the C.D. Howe Institute, that the country needed to be talking about investments in human capital – and post-secondary education was the best way to do it. means in which to do it.

The next week, he got a call to meet Finance Minister Jim Flaherty in his office. “I had a bundle of projects that we had collected and I laid those projects on his desk.” He urged his members to be ready to respond quickly. Two months later, the KIP program was announced, and the colleges had many projects that had been waiting for a fund just like this.

Red River, Manitoba

In 1904, Winnipeggers unveiled The Union Bank Tower, an 11-story building and the tallest in Western Canada. It boasted a 28-foot high ceiling in its entrance hall and its bold style inspired others to erect similar early skyscrapers in a part of Main Street, eventually nicknamed Bankers’ Row.

More than 100 years later, the old building was sitting abandoned after its long-time tenant, RBC, moved out in the early 90s. The boarded-up old building in the centre of downtown, close to both City Hall and Chinatown, became an eyesore, as it struggled to find an organization that could occupy its premises.

Red River College of Applied Arts, Science and Technology is bringing the heritage Union Bank Tower back to life. Restoration of the 1904-era building is expected to be complete by next spring, and those Ionic columns, patterned marble floors, and ornate cornice work on the ground floor will provide a stylish entrance for students in culinary arts, as well as those in hospitality and tourism management. The building’s top seven floors will house 100 students in the college’s first student residence.

The tower not only reawakens a dormant part of downtown Winnipeg but also provides Red River with a fuller campus in the Exchange District. The Manitoba government put up money, Paterson GlobalFoods (and others) provided money as well, and Pace-Greentree Builders donated the building, but money provided by the federal infrastructure fund made it truly happen. “Were it not for the KIP funding this would not have been possible,” said Stephanie Forsyth, president and CEO of Red River College.

She’s also happy to see an historic piece of architecture take back its rightful place: “I can’t imagine Main Street without this building.”

Nunavut

In the North, when Nunavut Arctic College heard about KIP, they quickly realized the most shovel-ready project for them would not be a new physical building in one of their many communities, but something that could help them better connect to each other and take advantage of the online learning tools and distance education features available to outlying schools with high-speed connections.

The Cyber Infrastructure Project took $5-million to build, with just under half coming from KIP. Technicians recently wrapped up the work, having replaced all the copper wiring running from the facilities to the satellites with fibre optic cable and retrofitted all the facilities with structured cable to handle the high speeds. The project also included 25 satellite discs for increased bandwidth and a dedicated videoconferencing network, an Internet Protocol phone system (VoIp) and six video-conference terminals.

Eric Corneau, the college’s coordinator of policy and planning, says this opens up many more learning possibilities for northern students, with an Iqaluit student now able to follow a class in real time that’s taking place in Rankin Inlet. Many online learning tools using video, that had been inaccessible in Nunavut, will now be available for teaching, increasing course offerings.

Mr. Corneau says students are ecstatic with the improved connectivity and says he expects enrolments to increase. He added that researchers are also very happy for the upgrade.

“It was long overdue.”

Okanagan, B.C.

Okanagan College in Kelowna, B.C. is offering programs for several new green trades: From sustainable construction to alternative energy and from life-cycle site management to new techniques in heating and ventilation. Now, with its $28-million Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation, all that takes place in a building that adheres to many of the sustainable principles it’s teaching. KIP contributed more than $22.6-million to the cost.

The architects behind the 7,000 square-metre building, CEI Architectural Planning Interiors, designed it with a net-zero energy and water consumption. The building feeds back electricity to the Penticton grid and exchanges grey water for potable water with the city. The building was constructed with locally sourced materials, including pine beetle-killed wood, geo-thermal energy, solar heating, mirror tubes to bring in natural light where there are no windows and a metered lighting system to minimize electrical lighting.

The building will also offer itself as a live subject in sustainable technologies, having become part of a network of colleges across Canada looking at how these features adapt to different climate regions. Additionally, one of the building’s labs offers students their own geo-thermal well to study how heat is derived from deep below the building, with others able to fully see how the metering system is managed.

“This building is about applied research,” said Okanagan President Jim Hamilton, who says KIP funding made this a more quickly achievable project.

Mr. Hamilton says his goal was to simply make the most sustainable building in the world. He says it was not only something the college wanted to do as a way to adapt to the changing trades, but added that it is important to do this for the health of the planet.

“Post-secondary institutions need to be leading this social change.”

Editor's note: This version of the story correctly identifies the location of Okanagan College and the amount of money it received from KIP. A previous version had incorrect information.

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