Western looks to government funding to continue building

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Entering a construction zone

Laura Barclay

IF ONLY AN EXTRA $700,000 WAS AVAILABLE FOR THESE PROJECTS. The Biology and Geology Building is one of the many places on Western’s campus currently undergoing construction. With dwindling funds, the school has had to halt some of its planned endeavours.

Universities and colleges across Ontario, including Western, have embarked on a building-spree with an estimated $1.6 billion price tag to accommodate rising demand for post-secondary education under current market conditions.

However, it is uncertain whether post-secondary institutions can afford such ventures.

“We don’t have the money,” Gitta Kulczycki, Western’s vice-president of resources and operations said when describing the school’s transition to its construction plans outlined in its Long-Range Space Plan II.

The plan originally involved pursuing a number of high priority projects including the construction of new buildings as well as renovations to older structures.

According to Kulczycki, such projects initially included the construction of a new $100 million building for the Richard Ivey School of Business, renovations to the Physics and Astronomy Building and the Stevenson-Lawson Building " in addition to developing new classroom space in the University Community Centre. As the year progressed and the economic climate grew uncertain, these plans experienced altercations.

“We are continuing to pursue these projects but our time frame has changed,” Kulczycki said. “We had to put our plans for the Physics and Astronomy Building on hold.”

Moreover, plans for the new Ivey building have been halted because of uncertainty with regards to government funding. Other projects, however, are continuing to be pursued out of immediate need.

“We desperately need the classroom space in the UCC and have earmarked that space for the Faculty of Information and Media Studies which has experienced rising enrollment,” Kulczycki said.

Both the federal and provincial governments are attempting to support this construction boom of academic and research infrastructure by providing needed capital investment. This is being achieved through the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, according to Industry Canada.

The program is a two-year economic stimulus maneuver of $2 billion to “support infrastructure enhancement at post-secondary institutions,” according to the Industry Canada website. “The program gives preference to projects that can improve the quality of research and development at the institution.”

Tanya Blazina, spokesperson for Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, added to this description of the planned capital investment.

“The McGuinty government’s goal is to modernize and create a safe environment for students,” Blazina said. “This will boost Canada’s research and training capacity.”

Although the proposed funding aims to assist post-secondary institutions to accommodate increased enrollment, Blazina is uncertain as to what specific criteria would be utilized to allocate the funds to different universities and colleges at the moment.

The Canada Foundation for Innovation also offers funds for research infrastructure to be matched by the government of Ontario. According to the Foundation, its funding is only allocated towards institutions with a minimum average of $300,000 of sponsored research income over three years.

“We hope that [Western] will receive a significant amount of assistance from the federal and provincial governments,” Kulczycki said.

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