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As Canada’s first LEED Gold, zero-carbon, mass timber, higher-education building, Centennial College’s A-Building expansion is based on Indigenous principles.Riley Snelling

Centennial College is celebrating the opening of a unique 130,000-square-foot expansion and 15,000-square-foot renovation that is the “physical manifestation” of its commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, says Seán Kinsella (ê-akimiht nêhi(y/th)aw/otipemisiwak/Nakawé/Irish), Centennial’s first director, the Eighth Fire.

The design of the $112-million, six-storey A-Building expansion is based on Indigenous principles, featuring elements aimed at decolonizing learning environments and ensuring accessibility for all, says Mx. Kinsella, who is migizi dodem (Bald Eagle Clan) and identifies as two-spirit/queer/aayahkwêw, adding that the college opened the gateway structure – the “heart of the campus”– in Scarborough in early September, hosting an “awakening ceremony,” based on Anishinaabe traditions.

Students, faculty, staff, elders and community members gathered around a ceremonial wood-burning fireplace, a focal point of the building, says Mx. Kinsella, who as co-chair of the Indigenous Working Group helped realize the vision of the new facility as a place of “inclusion and belonging.” They worked closely with Indigenous community members, ensuring their collective influence informed and centred design principles that will help transform and Indigenize the college.

The innovative building – completed in partnership with Colliers Project Leaders, EllisDon, DIALOG and Smoke Architecture – houses flexible classrooms, administrative offices and informal multifunctional spaces for students, staff and the community, including new labs for the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science (SETAS) program.

“Sometimes when we talk about Indigenous ways of learning, teaching and knowing, it is very theoretical,” notes Mx. Kinsella. “What really excites me about this space is that it embodies those things.

“In these spaces, people will be able to have these realizations that the Indigenous ways of doing things are valid and important.” The intentional design, such as the circle configuration of non-traditional classrooms, Mx. Kinsella hopes, will be conducive to “learning to work together as a human family.

“As people are struck by a sense of awe and beauty, I hope they’ll also realize that ‘maybe we can do things in a different, better way.’

“I’m really proud of Centennial for going above and beyond,” says Mx. Kinsella, in addressing design challenges and taking risks in adding components not often seen in academic settings.

Dr. Craig Stephenson, president and CEO of Centennial College, echoes Mx. Kinsella. “This building embodies the learning journey we are on, as individuals and as a college community, to fully recognize our commitments to Truth and Reconciliation; to acknowledge the criticality of nation-to-nation relationships in influencing how we govern ourselves; and to deepen our understanding that ‘we are all Treaty people’ – a key component of Centennial’s land acknowledgement.

“We are integrating the approaches we’ve taken with this project into Centennial’s campus planning process, and as we continue to grow and expand, this building will serve as a template for creating similar spaces at Centennial College.”

The A-Building expansion is also a testimony to the college’s “journey towards deepening our commitment to environmental stewardship,” notes Dr. Stephenson. It is Canada’s first LEED Gold, zero-carbon, mass timber, higher-education building.

“As we endure a record year of wildfires as a direct result of climate change, prioritizing sustainability has never been more paramount than it is today.”

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with Colleges and Institutes Canada. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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