Centennial College Future – Downsview Campus

Centennial College Future – Downsview Campus
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By Geoffrey Mosher

The city of Toronto has radically changed in the last 20 years. It has witnessed the development and growth of entire neighbourhoods that never existed before from old and underused industrial lands. Centennial College has seen similar growth with the development of campuses to beautiful, functional and futuristic spaces. 

Centennial is now playing a major role in forging Toronto’s future with the redevelopment and reinvention of another area in the city, Downsview Park. Centennial’s new aerospace campus is well underway in Downsview Park and is helping to build an entirely new neighbourhood while preserving one of the most important industrial sites in Canadian aerospace history.

The Courier spoke to Shannon Brooks, Associate VP Corporate Services (SB), and Mark Simpson, Manager Renovations and Special Projects (MS) about the Downsview Campus project.

What does this mean for Centennial and the aerospace programs?

SB: To me it goes beyond Centennial. This vision is something that Canada can hang its hat on, and the growth of the aerospace industry. We understand from Bombardier that they have an aging workforce that they need new trained people to be able to come in and take over these jobs as their workforce retires in the next 15 to 20 years. So there’s a huge opportunity for career paths and employment in the aerospace industry in Canada. 

Canada has a position with the current government that they want to put their money behind the aerospace industry and help it to grow and stay as strong as it has been over the years. It means Centennial will be well positioned for bringing the next generation of workforce into the aerospace industry. Having a purpose-built facility that is going to take us that far is just incredible. I think it’s all very positive.

MS: Having (Centennial College) positioned in Downsview Park with Bombardier really enhances the student experience, not only for the learning environment but having the students see what their future could look like being so close to an active aerospace industry. It really puts the school on the map. Right now they are sort of mixed in with Ashtonbee with other really great programs, but this is really going to set them apart and allow them to grow. 

I’ve heard estimates of growth up to 900 students and you said it is phase 1 what are the other phases?

SB: There is a group called Downsview Aerospace Innovation and Research (DAIR). Another division of Centennial is leading that group and it’s comprised of members from U of T, Ryerson, York University and some industry areas like Flight Canada. There are a number of different institutions that are involved. It’s very visionary at this point but these groups are coming together and showing a lot of interest. The potential is huge. 

To have the brightest and best from across Ontario be co-located and have purpose-built research labs that they can utilize towards aerospace and have common spaces where all of these students and faculty can mingle and discuss their common interests. I think it could really be a space where ideas are generated, where the future of aerospace can be, through this brainstorming process of just being able to talk to one another, can really just take off. What that means for Canada is potentially quite significant. So I’m hopeful to see phase 2 come to life, it’s still very much a vision, but that’s how all of these things get started.

It’s only going to be more beneficial for Centennial and Centennial students if all of these institutions start to co-locate and have similar aerospace programming in the same area. We do a lot of cross-pollination of our students with their students and faculty and be part of something much bigger. 

How are the elements of the de Havilland factory being maintained?

SB: Just the fact that we are re-purposing the de Havilland factory as an aerospace campus is in and of itself a fantastic solution because the building itself was not going to be maintained very well going forward if somebody didn’t come in to provide a solution. Luckily Centennial had this vision and working with the City of Toronto and their heritage department we managed to maintain a significant amount of the original features and functions of the building.

We had to replicate certain things like we’re replicating the windows in a similar style because they were not up to code anymore. But even the original hanger door is being re-purposed in the building 

MS: You’ll see the original interior big sliding hangar doors that separated some of the larger spaces. A lot of the original brick facade is being maintained and it’s done under a heritage aspect to keep that original masonry in original condition or bring it back to original condition. So a lot of the elevation of the building will be as it was 50 plus years ago. You can even see that now when you drive around the site. You’ll see portions of the building that are still standing that are being maintained.

SB: What I really like about the design is a couple of the interior walls of our building that are exterior walls of the original building and they’re being maintained inside the building in their original form. So you’re going to be able to be able to walk through the hallways and actually see the exposed brick of the original exterior wall of the facility. I think it’s a fantastic design feature.

MS: A lot of the original steel structure is also being brought up to code and will be part of that structure. It makes for a much trickier project because anytime you’re trying to do a new-build and also maintain an existing building it adds complexities, but definitely will be worth it.

SB: Another feature that I particularly like are (the) light boxes.

MS: It’s an historic version of a skylight, the way they used to do it 50-100 years ago. It’s a much nicer detail, it’s a really expensive detail to do when you’re building a new building, but we’re preserving that feature because it was such a big part of the building in its time.

With Centennial College’s emphasis on sustainability, what elements are being included in the building?

MS: There are a number of sustainable features of the building; green roof, low VOC materials in construction, sourcing local and recycled materials, top priorities in terms of being green and environmentally friendly have been factored into this facility wherever feasible. This facility is leading edge in terms of restoring a heritage building. There are a number of green features that will be used.

Also with the mechanical and electrical systems… the building will be on a fully automated system, as are other campuses, so it’s all controlled through one central brain. It can be programmed any number of ways to have set-backs and optimum operating conditions through the year, depending on the time of year, how the building is used, when the peak loads are, when the downtime is so that we are efficiently operating the building throughout those cycles. We have that to a degree in our main campuses as well, but it definitely allows the building operators to have full control of the facility and really see where the building needs to operate and improve, where the issues may be and how to address them quickly.

Is there anything else you would like to add about the Downsview Campus?

SB: The neighbouring facilities that are there. I don’t know if you know this, but there is a four-pad hockey arena, Scotiabank Pond. There are potentially some opportunities for students that are there also to participate in recreational activities nearby.

At 75 Carl Hall Rd., which is right behind our facility, there is a huge amount of recreational faculties there. They’ve got indoor soccer fields, ball hockey areas; there’s quite a lot of facilities in there. There’s potential for students that are attending to also look at what activities and opportunities there are for recreation right next door. I’m an avid athlete so I always look at those things as a big plus.

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