News Local

Georgian wants to build new tech facility

Bob Bruton

By Bob Bruton, Barrie Examiner

Viewed from the second floor window, between buildings H and E will be the site of a proposed new $30-million, three-storey advanced technology and research centre for 800 students Georgian College's Barrie campus.Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/Postmedia Network

Viewed from the second floor window, between buildings H and E will be the site of a proposed new $30-million, three-storey advanced technology and research centre for 800 students Georgian College's Barrie campus.Mark Wanzel/Barrie Examiner/Postmedia Network

Georgian College wants to build a new $30-million, three-storey advanced technology, innovation and research centre for 800 students on its Barrie campus.

Monday night city councillors gave initial approval to fund $5 million, or 25% of the total cost, whichever is less, during the next four years.

The federal government’s infrastructure program could pay as much as half of the cost, the County of Simcoe $5 million and the remainder could come from the province and other unspecified sources.

The college needs to have its application to Ottawa by May 9, next Monday. The 60,000-square-foot building would have to be substantially completed, or ready for occupancy and use, by April 30, 2018.

“We do appreciate this is a very unrealistic request at this time,” said MaryLynn West-Moynes, Georgian’s president and CEO, of the time lines. “But that $2-billion (federal infrastructure fund for all Canadian colleges and universities) is out there.”

It was also announced just three weeks ago, the college said.

Mayor Jeff Lehman said the core of this project is bringing engineering education to Barrie.

“This will align with where we want to go as a community,” he said.

The centre would prepare more job-ready graduates for in-demand careers in the Barrie area.

The new centre would be built on the east side of the Canadian Automotive Institute (building H) and Hospitality and Tourism (E), mostly in parking lot 10 and in a smaller portion of parking lot 11.

The advanced technology, innovation and research centre would contain research and commercialization labs, multi-use classrooms and collaboration space for as many as 800 new degree and diploma students.

“It will be a game-changer, a home for new diploma and degree studies, but also a boost for our start-up economy,” said Tom McBride, chairman of Georgian’s board of governors.

“The centre will house studies in engineering, technology, computer studies, environmental management and more,” West-Moynes said. “This will also be a place where academia and industry work together, collaborating to innovate, diversify our economy and create new opportunities for the future.”

Carla Ladd, the city’s CAO, said the city's investment is the right move.

“This is our opportunity,” she said. “We can’t do this on our own for $5 million. I think it is a fantastic opportunity.”

This project would also allow Georgian to move some of its fine arts programs into downtown Barrie, to keep a promise the college made to city council several years ago, and contribute to the downtown's creative economy.

While Barrie councillors gave initial approval to the funding Monday, some were not happy with the tight time line and wondered where that $5 million would come from.

“It’s a large commitment on short notice,” said Coun. Doug Shipley. “We don’t have $5 million just kicking around.”

“Where are we going to find the $5 million, and at the cost of which programs?” said Coun. Bonnie Ainsworth. “I feel I only have half the information to make the decision.”

“We are being asked for a leap of faith,” said Lehman.

He said the city would either have to find $1.25 million in savings for each of the next four years, or the money would have to come from property taxes.

Many councillors also questioned the province’s commitment, at least to this point. West-Moynes pegged it at approximately $2 million.

“We are anteing up $5 million,” said Coun. Andrew Prince, “on what is a provincial issue (post-secondary education).”

But Ladd says it’s worth the investment.

“We start the wheels in motion and others will come,” she said. “We will get a lot of private investment.”

The college has already mentioned potential partnerships with PowerStream, Toronto Hydro, Ford and Wolf Steel/Napoleon.

“If we wait for senior levels of government to step in, we will be waiting a long time,” Ladd said.

An official with Barrie MPP Ann Hoggarth’s office said the $2 million figure is preliminary, that no final decision has been made and that if the project is built, the province would fund its annual operating costs.

West-Moynes said Georgian College’s share of the project is $4-$6 million, for the building's furnishings and equipment.

The college's proposed Barrie centre would have its main and second floors house engineering labs and multi-use technology classrooms. It would also contain applied research and space where community and industry partners can work alongside Georgian students and staff.

The centre would also feature the latest computer-aided design and manufacturing labs.

College officials say the third floor might be kept as a shell initially, but would be destined for future use – depending on provincial funding down the line. The structure will also be capable of supporting a fourth floor in the future, if needed.

Moving a number of Georgian's visual arts programs to downtown Barrie would also allow the demolition of the 45-year-old Helen & Arch Brown Centre for Visual Arts (D), which the college says has high operating and environmental costs.

Georgian officials say the family of Arch and Helen Brown would be consulted about building D's demolition.

Ottawa's post-secondary institutions strategic investment fund for capital construction or repair of college and university buildings was announced last month. The federal government will cover as much as 50% of the costs of projects it approves.

Decisions on projects and funding will be made by the feds this month and in June.

Council will consider final approval of the $5 million at its May 9 meeting.

The city’s last contribution of note to Georgian College was in 2009, to its health and wellness centre – which was $5 million. The project cost about $61 million to build.

bbruton@postmedia.com