Carleton's neuroscience program to take up temporary digs at U of O

Carleton University's neuroscience department will take up temporary residence at the University of Ottawa in March before moving back to its new home on the Carleton campus months later.

Students fear 2 moves in short time could jeopardize research, job prospects

This is an architectural rendering of the Academic Health Sciences building at Carleton University, the future home of the university's neuroscience department. Before moving in there, the department is being asked to move into temporary accommodations at the University of Ottawa. (Carleton University)

Carleton University's neuroscience department will take up temporary residence at the University of Ottawa in March before moving back to its new home on the Carleton campus months later.

Carleton president Roseann O'Reilly Runte announced the move in a statement issued Wednesday, the same day the temporary space at the U of O was secured, she wrote.

The details of the move — which will allow renovations to the department's current building to get underway in March  — come after students expressed concerns that two moves in the span of less than a year could bring a halt to important brain research and harm their careers.

After moving temporarily to the U of O, the department will settle for good in the university's new health sciences facility when it opens. Construction on the roughly 120,000-square-foot is expected to be completed by June 2017.

Controversial move

But some students say the two moves could pull the plug on precise research projects and potentially delay graduation dates.

"For many of those students, the research they're going to be doing is critical for their degrees, critical for their futures," said John Stead, the chair of Carleton's neuroscience department, in an interview last week. "And at the moment, we don't know whether the students are actually going to be able to continue their research next year."

The neuroscience department currently has approximately 500 undergraduate students and 50 or so master's and PhD students, as well as a handful of post-doctoral researchers.

The current problem, Stead said, ironically arises from "two pieces of very good news": the construction of the new Academic Health Sciences facility, and the renovation of their current home into the forthcoming Institute for Advanced Research and Innovation in Smart Environments (ARISE).

Last week, a petition appeared online calling for the launch of "all-party consultation" to figure out how to manage the move.

John Stead, the chair of the neuroscience department at Carleton, is critical of a plan that would force the department to relocate twice in less than a year. (Judy Trinh/CBC)

'Like a set of dominoes'

Runte wrote Wednesday that Carleton didn't have the funding required to renovate the neuroscience department's existing location to accommodate the institute that will move in.

So the university applied for federal and provincial funds, which won't come through unless the university meets a project completion deadline that has already pushed back "as late as possible," Runte wrote.

"Faculty members with research projects in those areas are anxiously waiting for the space and professors who will fill in behind them are waiting for their space. It is like a set of dominoes," she wrote.

The U of O space is better than the department's current labs, and "meets all requirements and standards."

"... I realize the difficulty of moving, but assure everyone that all will be transported with the greatest care by appropriately licensed companies. I ask you all to come together to plan this move and to help ensure that all projects are protected," Runte wrote.

Stead had been hoping the university would delay the opening of the ARISE building by nine months.

"That would allow the experiments that we have ongoing already in this building to be completed," he said last week. "It would absolutely minimize the disruption, and would set the students up for success."