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This article was published 13/4/2018 (648 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Six weeks after placing its $95-million Innovation Centre construction project on hold, Red River College is no closer to resolving a key issue with Ottawa that imperils the undertaking.
Paul Vogt, college president and chief executive officer, said Friday the long pause is starting to cost the Winnipeg college. Akman Construction Ltd. has assembled a team to carry out the work, but it has been unable to proceed while the college remains at an impasse with Ottawa over the project’s completion deadline.
"Essentially, they’re standing idle right now and we have to cover those costs. And quite rightly," Vogt said.
If Red River cannot resolve its differences with Ottawa soon, this year’s construction season may be lost, he said, and the college will proceed with Plan B. It would entail renovating the Scott Fruit building on Elgin Avenue — a heritage structure that was to be incorporated into the project — and readying it for needed classroom space this fall.
That’s a far cry from where the college wanted to be at this point. Red River had wanted tenders to be out by now to sub-contractors who would carry out the bulk of the construction on the proposed four-storey, 100,000-square-foot centre, including for concrete foundation work, structural steel framing, the erection of exterior walls and so on.
That has been in limbo since early March when the college, realizing it could not meet a federal completion deadline of Nov. 30 — and receiving no extension — stopped all work on the project. At risk is a $40.6-million federal contribution to the centre.
When Red River pressed the pause button March 5, representatives said it hoped it could quickly bring the matter to a head and work out a new completion target date — one that it could actually meet.
A formal agreement with the federal government for project funding was completed only in late June of last year. That left only 17 months to finish the building.
Vogt said while he has been "in constant touch" with officials in Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the prime minister’s office and the office of Manitoba cabinet minister Jim Carr, there’s been no resolution to the issue.
Ottawa is still saying it supports the college initiative, he said, but it appears to be looking for a way to justify the granting of an extension to Red River without setting a precedent for other projects across the country.
Federal funding for the Innovation Centre comes from a post-secondary institutions strategic investment fund that was launched in April 2016. It was seen as a temporary program to generate "immediate short-term economic activity while supporting long-term innovation and environmental objectives," Ottawa said.
The initial deadline for completion of projects under the one-time funding deal was to have been the end of this month, but Red River and other project proponents across Canada applied and received extensions to the end of November.
A request for comment to Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains’ office was not returned before deadline Friday.
The college is already on the hook for the bulk of the Innovation Centre’s construction costs and can ill afford to see its federal funding placed at risk by failing to meet the project deadline.
The Manitoba government’s contribution was to guarantee a loan for up to $54.8 million while the college initiates a fundraising campaign.
The proposed centre is expected to attract more than 1,200 students and staff to Red River’s downtown campus.
The initiative has strong support from the business community and is seen as a key pillar in a growing downtown Winnipeg hub of start-up enterprises.
The college said the proposed centre is modelled on a similar facility that recently opened at the University of Waterloo.
It is designed to facilitate an approach known as collaborative — or problem-based education — where teams of students learn by working directly with local companies, social enterprises and entrepreneurs.
The college’s goal is to open the centre to students in 2020.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.
Updated on Saturday, April 14, 2018 at 7:38 AM CDT: Final