York, Seneca break ground on technology centre

No corporate donors have been confirmed. The building’s final papers have yet to be signed. And no one involved seems to know exactly what will be studied within the walls of the $84 million structure.

But on Monday, Ontario’s training, colleges and universities minister joined officials from York University and Seneca College in breaking ground on the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Building on York’s sprawling northern Toronto campus.

Scheduled for completion for Fall 2003, the TEL Building has been awarded $46.99 million from Ontario’s SuperBuild fund. This represents the biggest grant directed at alleviating the strain of accommodating a “double cohort” of students in 2003, as the province phases out Grade 13. The TEL building will house 4,000 incoming York and Seneca students. However, the SuperBuild Corp. is designed to encourage public-private partnerships, and the remaining $37 million will have to come from York, Seneca and private sector supporters.

Chris Costello, fundraiser for both York and Seneca, said one private donor has been confirmed, though no corporate dollars have been secured to date. As for the building papers, officials from the schools said the stumbling blocks centre around logistics rather than finances. And they said the fact Seneca and York were willing to break ground on the building without official documents completed shows the trust that has developed in the York-Seneca relationship, one that stretches three decades according to York president and vice-chancellor Lorna Marsden.

Students of joint York-Seneca programs in mathematics, science and technology in education, design, information technology, applied science, business, health studies and communications and multimedia will use the TEL Building, but the consensus Monday was that the future will decide just what they will use it for.

“What’s going to evolve out of that, we don’t know yet,” said Rick Miner, president of Seneca College.

“This building will house an institute dedicated to investigating today what will be around tomorrow,” added Dianne Cunningham, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities. “It’s so forward, I don’t know what’s going to happen in this building, and I’m happy to say that.”

But Cunningham did express confidence that access to the TEL Building and its technology will make graduating students very attractive to employers. Along with 31 classrooms, 42 computer labs and three resource centres, the TEL building will house a virtual reality centre and adjustable workspaces. It will also feature wall-to-wall wireless networking.

“Our young people will have jobs and that’s something we didn’t have 15 years ago,” Cunningham said.

Miner said this extension of the York-Seneca relationship is responding to a need for post-secondary institutions to re-define themselves so they offer a mix of practical and theoretical training.

“It’s going to be a major shift. You’re going to see more and more of this,” Miner said, noting that Humber College and Guelph University have decided to provide the same type of joint education as York and Seneca.

“It’s really responding to what students say they want,” Marsden added.

The TEL Building represents part of an infrastructure upgrade for both Seneca and York. York is currently engaged in a $318-million building program, while Seneca is also expanding its Newnham campus to include a business building.

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