By Neale McDevitt
As anyone who has walked past the various construction sites that dot McGill’s downtown campus will attest, men at work is much more than an Australian pop band from the 1980s. Scaffolding, cranes and temporary fencing have become as much a part of the University’s landscape in recent months as the Roddick Gates, the Arts building cupola and James McGill striding into a stiff breeze.
And, with Monday’s announcement at the Otto Maass Chemistry Building by Quebec Education Minister Michelle Courchesne and Senator David W. Angus that the federal and provincial governments will invest $103 million in McGill’s essential maintenance and construction projects, it looks like that work will continue for some time.
With the University already in the midst of a co-ordinated infrastructure renewal program, the news made Principal Heather Munroe-Blum very happy. “This is enormously important for McGill,” she said. “We have two campuses that house over 50,000 people every day. We have professors, researchers and students of the highest quality and many of them are working in infrastructure that reflects the 200-year-old nature of our campus and not the modern era.
“Our goal is to ensure that we’re building the infrastructure support around our students and faculty to allow them to use their talents fully.”
As part of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP) launched by the federal government in March 2009, the money will help fund four infrastructure enhancement programs that will address urgent facility upgrades and construction while significantly contributing to Canada’s science, technology and innovation initiatives, including the recruitment and retention of some of the world’s top researchers.
The funding includes $19,672,000 for the creation of a new centre for brain imaging at the Douglas Mental Health University Institute; $28,729,000 for upgrades to the integrated life sciences facilities in the McIntyre Medical Building; $27,601,500 for the renovation of chemistry facilities in the Otto Maas Chemistry Building and in the Pulp and Paper Research Institute; and $24,680,000 for the renewal of facilities in support of engineering innovation in the Macdonald Engineering Building.
Munroe-Blum is the first to admit that, new brain imaging centre aside, there is nothing sexy about the renovations. “Much of the work [to be done] doesn’t sound very glamorous – new fume hoods, pipes and walls… But without those things, you simply can’t conduct world-class research and teaching – and that, of course, is our goal.”
The Principal went on to say that the KIP will help attract top researchers because it demonstrates a commitment to long-term planning. “Our colleagues are not greedy for compensation – they are greedy to use their talents fully. They [are] looking for the components that go into making this a place they can be very productive in their teaching, their research and their scholarship. Infrastructure is an absolutely fundamental part of that.”
Munroe-Blum praised Ottawa and Quebec for the KIP, a two-year, $2-billion program that will provide economic stimulus and infrastructure enhancement at Canadian post-secondary institutions. “The KIP project… has come together in a terrific way to say this is a priority and knowledge-based and talent-based infrastructure is a priority even in – and particularly in – an economic downturn,” she said.