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Universities to showcase new buildings to the public

Pan-Canadian event is meant to celebrate success of the KIP program.

By SUSAN PETERS | OCT 11 2011

This November, anyone taking a tour of the Biological Sciences Building at the University of Manitoba may experience a slight frisson as the door is opened to the “cold room.” Resembling a large walk-in freezer, the small stainless steel room lined with shelves allows researchers to prepare specimens at a constant cool temperature, but visitors might want to wear a parka over their lab coat.

The new cold room at the University of Manitoba is just one of the highlights of the pan-Canadian “Open Doors – Open Knowledge” event taking place across Canada between Nov. 4 and Nov. 13. Universities taking part plan to give tours to the public and to cut the ribbon on new facilities that were built using federal funding from the Knowledge Infrastructure Program.
“It’s an exciting initiative to acknowledge the success of the KIP program,” said Paul Davidson, president of the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada. “What we’re envisioning is some 50 universities having activities to welcome the public, and to see what the public has invested in, over the past two years.”

The open house is also a tool for recruiting new students, a chance to thank private donors, and an invitation to federal MPs and their provincial counterparts to see the results: construction is mostly finished on the 194 projects at 86 universities that received KIP funding.

Announced early in 2009, the Knowledge Infrastructure Program was intended to create jobs during an economic slowdown, upgrade university facilities and help institutions tackle long lists of deferred maintenance. Colleges and universities had to quickly submit plans for “shovel-ready” projects that could provide an economic stimulus.

The projects included constructing new buildings, such as the Centre for Sustainability in Energy and the Environment at Cape Breton University, where researchers are studying such topics as creating clean energy from coal. The building’s official opening is slated to take place Nov. 4 during the Open Doors event.

KIP also funded basic renovations and necessary repairs to existing infrastructure. Université Laval will celebrate 17 projects that received KIP funding, including an upgrade to the university’s aging water supply system, during its Journée portes ouvertes on Nov. 12.

In total, Industry Canada approved $1.28 billion in KIP funding for projects at Canadian universities. One of the goals was to encourage universities to ask provinces for matching funds and, along with private donations, this leveraged the initial investment two-and-a-half times.

The University of Manitoba, for example, undertook seven projects that added $32 million in KIP funding to $57 million already promised from the Manitoba government, the university’s own funds and alumni donations. “The province was already supportive, and KIP was a chance to match up the provincial funding with KIP funding,” said David Barnard, the university’s president.

U of M was to officially open the new biology building as part of its open house on Nov. 9. The structure is actually a 50-year-old building formerly used by pharmacy students, now renovated from the basement to the roof. The renovation includes large and small improvements, from storage space in the basement for boat motors and live fish traps to adjustable thermostats in professors’ offices. New classrooms and teaching labs, up-to-date audiovisual systems, a computer lab and study carrels have been added.

On the research front, the building’s six new research labs boast high-tech amenities like the full-size cold room, a scanning electron microscope and a culturing facility that lets researchers model wetland ecology and determine how to control algae.

“The new lab is so much better,” said graduate student Olwin Friesen, as she used a microscope to examine a sample of Arctic fox intestine. Gesturing to the new fume hood, she said, “I have the facilities I need to do the work I need to do.”

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