TORONTO — Centennial College is one step closer to building a new technology centre through partnerships with Compaq Canada Corp. and Avaya Canada.

A ceremony to break ground on the project took place Wednesday which saw Ontario government leaders, the college’s president, and Compaq and Avaya top brass shoveling topsoil in front the centre’s planned site. A little technology magic helped the assembled launch team cheat a little: The ceremony was conducted in a Centennial student residence while the construction site was dropped into the background via blue-screen chromakey technology.

Compaq and Avaya provided a combined $10.25 million towards construction and will develop a backbone for the site to deliver unified messaging, access to campus information via wireless technology and eventually voice-over-IP (VoIP) to link to Centennial’s main Scarborough, Ont., campus. The new centre will be built on the University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus. The college expects it to open in 2004.

Former Ontario premiers Bob Rae, David Peterson and William Davis kicked off the ceremony. They ribbed one another about various leadership gaffs, and Rae joked that outgoing Ontario leader Mike Harris will soon be “another lost sheep to our fold,” but all three lauded the province’s community college system and its capacity to turn out qualified job seekers.

The college will focus on programs in e-business, e-health and wireless technology, said Centennial president and former Scarborough West MPP Richard Johnston, adding that the school will foster cooperation between the disciplines. “Colleges are almost too functional in what we do and don’t allow students to interact on a regular basis,” he said.

Compaq, the lead partner in the alliance, will have naming rights for the new centre. Students will be able to take cooperative job placements within Compaq and Avaya. “To Compaq, this is an investment in our future,” said Compaq president David Booth. He spoke of “a new kind of collaboration that we think is going to continue to flourish between education, business and government.”

The Ontario government has provided $37.8 million for the centre as part of its SuperBuild program, created in December, 1999. SuperBuild will deliver $20 billion to Ontario in various forms over five years to address the province’s infrastructure needs.

“Here in Ontario we are moving forward faster than most jurisdictions in North America thanks to these partnerships,” said Dianne Cunningham, Ontario minister of training, colleges and universities. “This centre will ensure that our future graduates will possess the qualities that employers are looking for.”

Centennial is just one example of cooperation between government, big business and education. Last year Sheridan, another Ontario community college, opened its own technology centre through partnerships with Cisco Systems Canada Co., IBM Canada Ltd. and Williams Communications Canada Inc. The centre, dubbed SCAET (Sheridan Centre for Animation & Emerging Technologies) is equipped with Cisco AVVID architecture and enabled with VoIP and IP/TV.

York University and Senaca College also announced plans to open a technology centre on Monday but are still seeking partnerships in the private sector.

Such partnerships are crucial, noted Booth, in order to overcome Canada’s IT skills gap. He pointed to reports that estimate Canada has 20,000 technology jobs yet to be filled due to lack of skilled applicants.

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