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Province pulls $20M in funding from OCAD University expansion
April 17, 2019
Isabel Teotonio

OCAD University is determined to move forward with a campus expansion project after receiving “devastating news” that the province is withdrawing millions in funding.

The move by the Progressive Conservatives affects the Creative City Campus, a downtown Toronto project that’s been in the works for about a decade. It involves adding 50,000 square feet of new space and renovating 95,000 square feet of existing space.

Preliminary design of OCAD University's Creative City Campus by Morphosis Architects and Teeple Architects, in collaboration with Two Row Architects. The university says it is determined to move ahead with the project despite losing provincial funding.

“It is devastating news for the institution,” said Sara Diamond, president of the OCAD University. “This really is a significant, very negative decision on the part of government.”

“We’re well underway (with the project) and it meets the needs of our university for 21st century high-quality education in design and in digital media and creative industries that the Ontario economy needs,” she told the Star on Tuesday. “This is really a blow to that capacity in the province and we’re really surprised that the government decided to, essentially, cancel their contract with us.”

In 2016, the previous Liberal government committed $27 million towards the project. To date, the province has given the university $7 million. But on Friday afternoon, it withdrew future funding.

In a letter, deputy minister George Zegarac, from the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, says “the province is no longer in a position to fund the project given provincial fiscal restraints.”

He says that as part of last week’s budget, a “thorough review” of all government programs was done to “ensure investments are sustainable and modernized.”

Sara Diamond, president of OCAD University, says they will continue to press the provincial government to fulfil its commitment.

“Budget 2019 reflected the government’s commitment to achieve balance in a responsible manner, and deliver on the promise to restore accountability and trust in Ontario’s finances,” writes Zegarac in a letter addressed to Diamond. “Unfortunately, this requires making difficult decisions concerning future funding to projects.”

He adds, “the government will undertake program evaluations on a permanent and ongoing basis to ensure government services are meeting people’s needs and to identify ways to modernize programs and save money.”

The Star contacted a ministry spokesperson Tuesday, but did not hear back before deadline.

The OCAD U project costs $60 million in total. The university, which has a student population of 4,700, has raised $33 million from private donors, the federal government and institutional funds.

“We have the other money,” said Diamond. “And by (the province) removing, essentially, $20 million towards the completion, it creates a significant challenge for the university and for our donors and for our community.

“We’re not going to accept this as a final decision. We’re consulting with our stakeholders. We’re certainly hoping to continue the conversation with government,” she added.

The project, which is one-third complete, involves the transformation of the main campus, located at 100 McCaul St., and of a building at 115 McCaul St. The final phase involves expanding the main campus with 50,000 square feet of new space that would include modernized classrooms, seminar spaces and expanded studios.

“The students are so talented … As emerging designers and artists, who have a very high success rate in job placement and really are central to the Ontario economy, they deserve to have quality facilities like other post-secondary institutions can provide.”

Other schools have experienced similar funding woes. Last October, the Progressive Conservatives cancelled funding, totalling around $307 million, for three planned satellite campuses, which are partnerships between universities and colleges. Those funds had also been promised by the previous Liberal government. Affected projects include a Ryerson University/Sheridan College campus in Brampton and a Wilfrid Laurier University/Conestoga College campus in Milton. Also impacted, and much further along in development, is a York University/Seneca College campus in Markham.

York University remains “steadfast” in its commitment to the project and is exploring all possible options, says university spokesperson Barbara Joy.

“A new campus in Markham is an opportunity for York to accommodate the forecasted steady increase in population growth and the growing demand for post-secondary programs close to home in areas like entrepreneurship, commerce, digital media and medical biotechnology, responsive to the emerging labour market needs of York Region and Ontario.”
Similarly, Wilfrid Laurier spokesperson Kevin Crowley says “Laurier remains committed to developing a campus presence in Milton.”

“As we discuss future possibilities with the province and our partners, we plan to offer some individual courses starting in the near future to be delivered in the Milton Education Village Innovation Centre.”