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Nearly all infrastructure funds allocated

BY NICK TAYLOR-VAISEY | AUG 04 2009

Canada’s science minister thinks his government has done a pretty good job of honouring its budget commitment to invest heavily in decaying postsecondary infrastructure across the country.

Gary Goodyear has spent the better part of two months travelling to campuses and, along with his provincial counterparts, rolling out his government’s two-billion dollar Knowledge Infrastructure Program.

The money will go to refurbish roofs, heating and ventilation systems, and existing facilities but it will also contribute to new capital projects across Canada. At the end of July, 428 projects had been announced at over 132 university and college campuses in every province and one territory.

In an interview with University Affairs, Mr. Goodyear expressed satisfaction with how the program rolled out over eight weeks.

“I was very happy with the provinces coming forward with projects that just nailed the criteria and merit and, of course, had that economic stimulus and job creation,” he said. “Although the work was heavy and there were lots of projects, it did make it easy.”

The largest investments were made in the University of Alberta’s health research innovation facility and the University of Windsor’s Centre for Engineering Innovation. Both of those projects received federal commitments of $40 million.

Multi-million dollar investments on campuses across the country weren’t uncommon. Forty-six projects received at least $10 million each in federal funding. When provincial, institutional and private contributions are taken together, 74 campuses saw at least $10 million pumped into research infrastructure and accumulated deferred maintenance.

Mr. Goodyear said that his department added 100 employees, many of them retired civil servants, to get the job done. And while the program was intended to roll out in two phases – in the spring and again in the fall – several provinces were eager to combine the phases.

The four Atlantic provinces, Saskatchewan and the Yukon all combined their funding into a single phase, and Ontario and Manitoba had announced their second rounds by early July. According to Mr. Goodyear’s spokesman Gary Toft, 93 per cent of the funding had been allocated – though not necessarily announced – by that time.

Mr. Goodyear said that universities and colleges have been universally satisfied with the investment, and he points to a framed picture in his office to illustrate that point. After the announcement of an investment at the University of Winnipeg’s science and environment complex, the university paid for a full-page advertisement in a local newspaper applauding the pledge, had it framed, and sent it to Mr. Goodyear.

Quite a few universities will use the funding to invest in environmentally friendly infrastructure. For example, the University of Northern British Columbia will create a $14.8-million biomass gasification system that “will provide heat to the core campus buildings and displace up to 85 percent of UNBC’s current consumption of natural gas.”

Doug Carter, the school’s capital projects manager, says that the new system will go a long way to saving the university money on heating bills and it will also contribute to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. That’s particularly important in British Columbia, he said, where the provincial carbon tax can be costly. The reductions will also help UNBC become carbon neutral, a goal all public-sector institutions must achieve by 2010 according to provincial legislation.

Mr. Carter said that he hopes construction will begin on the biomass gasification system this fall and wrap up a year later. In the meantime, that project and another one on that campus should create about 250 jobs, he added.

In Ottawa, Liberal MP and infrastructure critic Gerard Kennedy is optimistic about the usefulness of the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, but he still has reservations about its long-term impact.

“The government was under some heat for its lack of support for actual research, and I think maybe this was partly how they hoped they would outlet some of that pressure. In any event, it is in a bit better shape than some other aspects of the [federal] infrastructure program,” he said.

He said his party supports the idea behind the program, adding, “But I’m still not convinced that it adds up to any kind of coherent vision for how campuses … should really develop in this country.”

In the interview, Mr. Goodyear also spoke about his government’s vision for post-secondary education After building campus infrastructure, the next step is ensuring that the research conducted in labs is transferred successfully to the marketplace, he said. “Where we can do better is exactly where we’re going to focus. We can be a little better in terms of innovation, with respect to industry.

“Relationships between industry and universities can be improved, and any ideas to get that collaborative effort going better are exactly what we’re interested in doing.”

Note: This story replaces an earlier version entitled “Goodyear says two-thirds Knowledge Infrastructure funds distributed” that appeared online before a substantial number of funding announcements had yet to be made.

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