Niagara College

Redevelopment Project

The redevelopment master plan at Niagara College isn’t just about “bricks and mortar”—it’s about improving student life for better socialization and interaction, while maintaining focus on studies.

“We cannot undervalue the importance of student life going hand in hand with the academics,” said Dan Patterson, President of Niagara College. “We haven’t been able to provide as much as we are now able to and that is very exciting. I think it’s really going to work and it will create a major buzz, energy and camaraderie.”

A redevelopment project that broke ground in late 2008 with goals for improved growth, social interaction, efficiency and sustainability, students will be provided with resources to improve both academically and socially.

Joining the college in 1995, Patterson has presided over Niagara College’s doubled enrolment rate. Home to 8,000 students, it’s now time to accommodate those students, with Niagara College’s redevelopment preparing for an additional 2,000 students in the next three years.

Project funding

“We have been able to implement a $90 million capital expansion in which the major part of the expansion will be completed by this September. Then we have our Applied Health Institute scheduled for completion in Spring 2011,” said Patterson. “We have been at this for the last two years intensely and we are well along the process of completion. We’re on budget and on time.”

The new infrastructure allows for programs to be redesigned and modified, suiting the changing nature of work circumstances.

“We are introducing new programs like the Renewable Resource Technician program, which will teach students about major green technologies, like wind, thermal and solar,” said Patterson. “This will attract more students to Niagara College.”

Adding to that, a ‘build it green’ initiative is very much in place at Niagara College.

“One of the priorities, having a school of horticulture and having environmental programs, was to model all the best behaviour when it comes to the issue of green environment,” said Patterson. “We are referred to as a green lung; having a lot of greenery. We are planting thousands of trees. We have over six kilometres of trails and we’re looking at solar heating, thermal heating and wind.”

At the Welland, Ontario campus, built in 1967, the redevelopment project includes five new facilities. Those additions include an academic wing (featuring two 140-seat lecture halls and three 70-seat halls), a library and learning commons, an athletic centre, a student centre (“Which is just awesome,” added Patterson) and a skilled trade and technology centre of about 70,000 square feet. In Niagara-on-the-Lake, home to Niagara College’s other major campus, additions include a Wine Education Centre and an expansion to the college’s culinary skills department.

Campus dichotomy

“We have had a bit of a dichotomy. Our Niagara-on-the-Lake campus is considered among the most beautiful learning environments in the country and, about a month ago, the Associate of Canadian Community Colleges held their annual conference here of over 700 participants,” said Patterson. “With our 40 acre vineyard, the wine visitor education centre, our greenhouses, the way it has been designed, everyone thought it was one of the most beautiful campuses, and with our horticulture students managing the 100 acres of land, it is considered unquestionably among the most beautiful learning environments in the college system.”

Against that is the Welland campus, older than 40 years and some of its buildings, originally temporary in nature (like the cafeteria and libraries) appearing “very tired looking”. The college was faced with a beautiful campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake and then Welland not having those same quality facilities.
“With these recent infrastructure opportunities and very prudent planning, we call it a renaissance,” said Patterson. “The Welland mayor, Damian Goulbourne, has referred to it as ‘rebirth of a campus’. It has a total different look. When people go by the campus, they cannot believe it. It’s like building a new city with a lot of green. The campus will be reformed into a park-like setting, with walking paths and greenery for everyone to really enjoy. Part of our goal is to be seen among the best green environments of college campuses in Canada.”

Working alongside the City of Welland

Added Patterson: “We are working closely with the city, which is very big on sports tourism, to try to attract teams from across the country to get involved in court sports like volleyball, basketball, etc. In the athletic centre that we will have, we are going to have a double varsity sized gym with bleachers, seating up to 1,000 spectators, fitness and aerobics centres. We have built the gym in a way that we will be able to host international tournaments.”

“We have tried to look at the city’s vision for the future and one is sports tourism. We built with the city in mind and we reached out to the city as part of our community based activities,” said Patterson. “Now we will be able to work with the city to attract international tournaments that can be held inside our gym and other big showcase events in part of our vision of integrating within the community.”

Voted No. 1 in student satisfaction among all Ontario colleges for the past six years, and that Niagara College was able to undergo such a major renovation during an economic downturn, underlines the school’s success. The college and its students generate about $300 million annually to the local economy.

“We really try to link to the world of work and that has really been our success factor. Combining that with strong industry advisors and making sure that our programs are leading edge has allowed us the opportunity to grow despite the economy,” said Patterson.

Student interaction

Patterson spoke passionately about the areas of the project he finds most exciting.

“I think the technology centre is bringing together a lot of important technology, whether it is our laser technology, or our mechanical engineering or our robotics,” said Patterson. “Similarly, the learning commons that we are developing will be the heart and soul of the new campus. It is the centerpiece.”

Students will be able to meet other students, regardless of the program they are attending.

“It’s a place we refer to as a student gathering, so whether you are in the paramedic program, or the automotive technician program, or in our graphic design program, you can gather there at this courtyard in an atrium roof and interface with students,” said Patterson. “For our student pub and student area, it was always isolated and not connected, and now it is in the core of our new buildings. This is a beautiful place for students to relax, enjoy music and overlook our gymnasium. There will be a fireplace and it will be a lovely environment for students to socialize.

“Colleges have also been doing a lot of research with respect to the changing circumstances of the workplace. When you have an aging population that means a lot of policemen, paramedics, chefs, various people are going to retire and there will be a skills shortage,” said Patterson. “When you combine that with society’s other mega trend of an emerging knowledge economy that requires more post-secondary education, you are seeing jobs opening up and qualifications getting higher. People want to hire people with post-secondary college or universities degrees. You put that into the mix—those growth factors, those skills shortages and the aging population—you will see the increasing desire for people to receive applied education through college.”

What’s next for Niagara College?

Niagara College has set a goal to be a strong player in regional economical development.

“If you look at all the major sectors of the economy in Niagara, you will find that we are involved in a lot of the occupations,” said Patterson. “In fact, 70 per cent of the positions in the health care sector are college graduates, so there is a growing need to support the health sector with a highly skilled workforce. In the area of hospitality and tourism, we have culinary arts programs, our wine industry in Niagara is growing, so we have wine viticulture programs. One-quarter of the workforce in Niagara is involved in some level of hospitality and tourism.”

Niagara’s biggest goal is to continue developing responsive programs for its community.

“A lot of our buildings are designed as multipurpose, so with the programs that are no longer needed in the marketplace, then we can morph into news programs like the Renewable Energy Resource Technician program, or looking at new areas like construction renovation, where there is huge gap in the marketplace with not enough qualified renovators.

“In addition to serving the needs of our learners that come to us from post-secondary institutions and people that may have been out of the workforce for two or three years, we also have a role to play with companies. The buildings that we are developing are very functional and will very much create a learning environment that will see us respond to the important needs of our community and industries,” said Patterson.

“It is a very important time in the history of Niagara College.”