Nfld. & Labrador

Feds, province suggest new MUN science building will be a gold mine

The $325-million project was touted today as a beacon of hope — a solid investment for a university struggling with constant cutbacks.

Premier and MP tour site of future core sciences building, optimistic about prospects for returns

The giant new building will replace the aging facility that now houses MUN's science faculty. (Memorial University )

It's still two years away from being completed, but Memorial University's new core sciences building will be the campus's shining star once it's completed, say its political investors.

Premier Dwight Ball and MP Seamus O'Regan toured the site in St. John's on Friday. Both Ottawa and the province supplied MUN with funding for the five-year construction project.

The school's forthcoming crown jewel, which Ball called the "centrepiece" of the province's education system, will host a range of programs and labs — from engineering to chemistry — in an effort to break down barriers between disciplines, said Ann Browne, the vice-president in charge of facilities at MUN.

The building's total gross floor area is 480,000 square feet, and will house a 10-storey, glass-walled atrium. Inside will be a familiar sight for anyone who followed the journey of two blue whales that washed ashore on the west coast in 2014: one of those whales will be reconstructed and suspended in mid-air.

Politicians are banking on sleek architecture and flashy features to establish St. John's as a research hub. (Supplied by Memorial University )

A kind of chemical super-highway, a high-tech delivery system for materials that will transport packages across the building, means students won't have to walk the length of two football fields to fetch supplies — another perk intended to raise MUN's status as a research hub.

"This new building will allow us to attract bright students and professors from around the world,"  said Memorial president Gary Kachanoski.

"You have to show people you take science seriously and that they will be teaching and working in a professional and modern 21st-century facility."

Competitive advantage

The university has seen its funding cut substantially over the last decade. In March of last year the province cut funding by $9 million. A month later, Memorial saw an $11-million cut to its grants. 

Despite the funding gap — plus the hefty price tag of the new building — all parties involved say the final product will draw in international students and entice local talent to study at home, bringing in cash the school sorely needs.

"Any sort of competitive advantage you can get pays off," O'Regan said, referencing the need for visual appeal in a global market.

"A blue whale in the atrium is not just a decoration, it's who we are and it will set us apart. It will bring people in and they will see the skills that we bring to the table."

The federal government is contributing $99 million to the project. The province and the university are footing the bill for the rest of the $325 million.

"This is absolutely not a risky investment. Any time you invest in education for Newfoundlanders and Labradorians, these are all sound investments, they give you great returns," said Ball.   

O'Regan agreed. "We need to build on our strengths, and we have significant strengths in science technology and engineering," he said.

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