Sexton Campus Renewal Set to Spark Innovation
Marjorie Lindsay (LLD’16) understands the power of a great idea. In her 91 years, the philanthropist has seen ideas transform the world around her many times over. On a more intimate scale, she has witnessed the effect ideas have on the people closest to her. More than a decade ago, her late husband John (DipEng’49, BEng(NSTC)’51, DEng’91), a Dalhousie Engineering alum and the founder of the successful Lindsay Construction company, returned from a meeting with dean of Engineering Joshua Leon and fellow alumni about the possibility of a new building on the Sexton Campus. He exuded an excitement that was palpable to Marjorie. “John came home that night looking five years younger,” she says.
That first discussion planted the seed of what would become the Innovation and Design in Engineering and Architecture (IDEA) project, a $64 million investment to revitalize the university’s downtown Sexton Campus, establish Dalhousie as a vibrant hub of design-oriented technical education and leave an indelible impact on Halifax and the regional economy of Atlantic Canada.
Even after the passing of her husband in 2006, Marjorie has remained a steadfast supporter of the IDEA project, contributing a $1 million donation and serving as its honorary campaign chair. She’s also one of many stakeholders who have guided a project that serves as a testament to the value of collaboration. From students to faculty members, individual donors to corporate sponsors, university administrators to multiple levels of government, hundreds of people have come together to nurture an idea into the IDEA. “It has grown slowly,” Marjorie says. “And now it’s coming.”
BREAKING NEWS: IDEAHUB INCUBATOR RECEIVES $10M FUNDING FROM EMERA
What’s coming is a massive leap forward for Dalhousie, Halifax and the entire Atlantic region. The IDEA project will have a transformative impact in education, in the region’s economy and in the city’s urban streetscape. It will create new spaces for students and researchers to collaborate with business and community leaders. It will advance Dal’s leadership in key research areas—clean technology, advanced material and ocean-related engineering. And, in conjunction with the adjacent Central Library, nearby startup companies, business commissions and research hospitals, Sexton will be the heart of an innovation district that positions Halifax as a hotbed of creativity.
“The future of Dalhousie and the future of Nova Scotia are inextricably linked,” says Dalhousie President Richard Florizone. “(The IDEA project) is our way of saying, ’We’re a university city, we’re a centre of creativity and a centre of innovation.’”
More than a simple facelift, the IDEA project will add two entirely new buildings to Dal’s downtown campus. The Innovation Building will house new workshop spaces for students in Engineering and Architecture and Planning, the two faculties that share Sexton Campus. It will also feature spaces dedicated to students working to create start-up companies. The new Design Building, meanwhile, will be the home of a 450-seat auditorium that can host large classes and community events. The development will include additional studios for Architecture and Planning students, including space devoted to the Landscape Architecture program. Together, the buildings represent the first new capital construction projects on Sexton Campus in more than 40 years.
But the scope of the project goes beyond new buildings. Existing structures will also benefit from upgrades and additions to their facilities that increase both the research potential and the sustainability of the campus. And all of it is made possible through funding partnerships linking students, alumni, corporate and individual donors, and the Government of Canada, whose $32 million infusion from the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund has been critical in bringing the full IDEA vision to life. “Investments like these in Atlantic Canada will support our world-class researchers and position Canada as a global leader in research excellence and innovation,” says Minister Scott Brison (BComm’89), president of the Treasury Board. “Through the Strategic Investment Fund, we are providing Canada’s students with the education and training they need to join a strong, healthy middle class.”
Dr. Florizone is quick to note that, while the new and improved facilities will be impressive in their own right, their value lies in the human potential they will unlock. “This project isn’t just about space,” he says. “It’s about people.”
The people who stand to reap perhaps the most direct benefits of the reimagined campus are students in the Engineering and Architecture and Planning faculties. IDEA will grow the teaching and learning capacity for an Engineering faculty that has dramatically increased undergraduate enrolment in the last decade, and an Architecture and Planning faculty whose enrolment has been artificially limited by a dearth of available studio space. Even more significant, the upgraded facilities will give students more hands-on learning opportunities. “As an engineer myself,” says Dr. Florizone. “I know that half the education takes place in the laboratory.”
The IDEA project will advance the university’s reputation for producing graduates who are ready to succeed in a professional environment. “(Dalhousie graduates) are the first choice of a lot of large companies and what they tell us is that our students have a strong theoretical background but also are very practical engineers with a lot of hands-on skills,” says Joshua Leon (BSc’80, MSc’82, PhD’88), dean of Engineering. “We’ve introduced more hands-on components into our programs and reinforced the problem-based learning part of our curriculum.”
Christine Macy, dean of Architecture and Planning, echoes Dr. Leon’s belief that education is about to get better for students in their respective faculties. “Engineers build things all the time and they’re not going to learn how to do that in a classroom,” she says. “They need these design labs where they can cluster together and work together in small teams.”
Dr. Macy says students in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning, which also emphasizes experiential learning, will enjoy similar benefits. “Access to the Innovation Building labs is going to allow our students to engage in concrete fabrication, metalwork fabrication and all kinds of design activities that are central to our curriculum.”
In other words, students in these faculties learn by doing and the IDEA project gives them the tools to do what they do best. The students themselves are keenly aware of this and are putting a substantial amount of financial muscle into the project. In separate referendums, students in Engineering and Architecture and Planning voted in favour of a voluntary annual fee of $200 to help support the project.
“Students have been tremendously supportive and are really excited about a project that is going to make it a lot easier to deliver the programs we want to deliver,” says Dr. Leon.
For students, the IDEA project isn’t just about the years they’ll spend on campus. With space and programming dedicated to incubating and accelerating startup companies, as well as opportunities to work on projects for existing companies, students can start building the foundation of successful careers long before they graduate.
“Students who are developing ideas for companies are going to have access to the same equipment they have for their class work and that the professors have for their research,” says Dr. Florizone. Spaces like a new Learning Commons will also bring students together to share ideas across faculties, encouraging the creation of the kinds of small creative “clusters,” to use Dr. Macy’s phrase, that can make an impact through innovation.
In this sense, the educational transformation spurred by a revitalized Sexton Campus is linked closely to the economic future of Atlantic Canada, as well as the university’s role in mobilizing intellectual capital for economic benefit. If Dalhousie’s mission is based on excellence in teaching and learning, research and service, Dr. Florizone sees building a strong regional economy as a key element of the service piece. “Catalyzing the economic and social development of this region is so important,” he says. “It’s our responsibility to step up.”
“We work with over 200 companies at any given time and about half of those are Nova Scotia companies.” says Dr. Joshua Leon, dean of Engineering. “We’ll be able to expand our footprint considerably.”
This responsibility is woven into the DNA of the faculties that reside on Sexton Campus. “Nova Scotia Technical College was founded in 1907 with a mandate to do three things,” says Dr. Leon. “One was to educate engineers for the good of the Nova Scotia economy, two was to do applied research to support the Nova Scotia economy and three was to provide well-paying jobs in Nova Scotia.” Although the faculty has evolved, first becoming TUNS and then integrating into Dalhousie, Dr. Leon says, “We’re still trying to do all three of those things.”
The IDEA project positions Dalhousie to play a leading role in an economy that is increasingly based on creativity and innovation. In addition to connecting startup businesses with modern tools and academic researchers, the new and refurbished facilities will allow the Sexton faculties to expand the services they already provide to companies big and small via the Nova Scotia Product Design and Development Centre.
“We work with over 200 companies at any given time and about half of those are Nova Scotia companies,” says Dr. Leon. From prototyping to product development to product and design support to consulting on operational efficiencies, the work done by the Faculty of Engineering for external clients can only grow with additional and improved facilities. “We’ll be able to expand our footprint considerably,” says Dr. Leon.
Bringing the physical space and technology at Sexton up to modern standards will benefit students, researchers, local entrepreneurs and companies of all sizes—and in doing so, will rev the engine of the local and regional economy.
A new view
The IDEA project is an exciting development even for those with no connection to Dalhousie. After all, the new buildings and the spaces around them are intended to transform the urban environment in a central block of the downtown core now anchored by the Central Library.
For decades, citizens could be forgiven for mostly ignoring the Sexton Campus street-front. Other than a renovation of the studio spaces in the Medjuk Building in the early 2000s, it’s a view that has remained largely unchanged.
According to Dr. Macy, the opportunity—and the design objective—of the campus refresh is to create spaces that are welcoming to all citizens. “We wanted a porous campus. We want people to walk through it,” says Dr. Macy, whose team played an important role in designing the project.“We wanted to consolidate the site as a hub and make the campus feel like part of the city.”
These goals are realized in part by spaces that open up the activities of the campus to the world. Workshop spaces will be glassed in and visible to the public, making the ingenuity of students and researchers accessible to all. Bright, clean promenades will link buildings in a manner that invites casual strolls and curious observation.
Dr. Macy adds that the public will also benefit from events that can be held at the new lecture theatre, as well as design-based exhibitions on campus. “We want to give back to the city in a lot of ways, including financially and culturally.”
The IDEA project is about giving back, but also looking forward—to the transformation of a university, a city, a region and, above all, people. A revitalized Sexton Campus is where students will get an elite design-based education, where new companies will be formed and existing ones take important steps forward, where citizens and visitors to Halifax can watch it all unfold in the heart of the city. It’s also where the countless supporters who nursed the project from its infancy to its final destination can celebrate their successful collaboration.
“It was such a dream of John’s that I wanted to help keep that dream alive,” says Marjorie Lindsay. Thanks to people like the Lindsays, an entire region can now dream bigger.