BuhlerCentre

An artist's conceptual drawing of the Buhler Centre in downtown Winnipeg. ((University of Winnipeg))

A local philanthropic couple handed the University of Winnipeg a $4 million donation on Friday, making it the largest private donation in the school's history.

The majority of the money from John and Bonnie Buhler will be used to help build a four-storey, 50,000-square-foot building at the corner of Portage Avenue and Colony Street.

Currently under construction on the site of the former United Army Surplus, the building will be named the Buhler Centre in honour of the couple.

From the donation, $3 million will be used by the university to consolidate its faculty of business and economics in the new location, across the street and down the block from its historic downtown campus.

'This historic gift from John and Bonnie Buhler is allowing us to add creative capacity to our surrounding neighbourhood.' — Lloyd Axworthy, U of W president

The centre will include state-of-the-art classrooms, computer labs and meeting spaces, according to a news release from the U of W.

The building will also house the university's division of continuing education, the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art, a public bookstore and a cafe.

"This historic gift from John and Bonnie Buhler is allowing us to add creative capacity to our surrounding neighbourhood," said Lloyd Axworthy, president and vice-chancellor of the U of W.

"The corner of Portage and Colony will be an important focal point downtown."

The first classes in the Buhler Centre are scheduled to start this fall.

New scholarships created

The other $1 million will be used to create the Buhler Knowledge Access Fund to provide scholarships within the faculty of business and economics to outstanding students and those in need, including single parents and those with lower incomes.

That is especially important to Bonnie Buhler, who said she was a single parent after her first marriage ended and before she met John, the CEO of Buhler Industries.

'We travel to many other places and see what a difference it can make to the overall health of our city to have a thriving downtown.' — John Buhler

John Buhler said the donation was also important to the couple who agree with Axworthy's efforts to revitalize the downtown.

"We travel to many other places and see what a difference it can make to the overall health of our city to have a thriving downtown. We hope the Buhler Centre, on a gateway corner into downtown, is helping with that renaissance," he said.

The university has been enlarging its downtown footprint, recently opening an $18-million student and family residence with attached day-care centre just a few blocks west of the main campus.

McFeetors Hall is named after Ray McFeetors, a U of W graduate and chair of the Great West Life Co. McFeetors made a personal donation of $1.67 million toward the project.

Under construction next to McFeetors Hall is a $59-million science complex and Richardson College for the Environment. It is expected to be completed by March 2011.

The U of W's history dates back to 1871 when Manitoba College was established. In 1938, it merged with Wesley College to form United College. In 1967 United College received its university charter and was renamed the University of Winnipeg.