The transition from Yukon College to Yukon University – YukonU – is being heralded in with a new $26-million science building.
Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau unveiled the $26-million commitment for construction of the new stand-alone building in Tuesday’s federal budget.
Yukon College president Karen Barnes was in Ottawa yesterday for a confidential budget briefing at the invitation of the Department of Finance.
There, she learned of the funding prior to Morneau delivering the goods in the House of Commons – though for a time, he was drowned out by the Conservatives’ shouting and desk-thumping.
Barnes was in the public gallery of the House when the Finance minister tabled the budget, before attending a post-budget celebration where she had the opportunity to speak with both Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“We have been lobbying Ottawa for a year on this project but we had no idea it was going to be in the budget,” Barnes said in an interview this morning from the nation’s capital.
Yukon MP Larry Bagnell said this morning he wasn’t in the budget lockup and didn’t know of the $26 million in funding until after the budget was tabled in the House. He has been constantly lobbying for the money.
“I was immediately looking through the budget to find out if Yukon College was in there and it did not take to long to find it,” he said.
Bagnell said he has impressed upon his Liberal colleagues that Canada is the only Arctic nation without a university North of 60.
“So this is very exciting; a very key investment.”
Having a science building with additional research infrastructure will help attract attention, he said, while insisting professors love to do two things – teach, and research.
Barnes said they have a conceptual drawing of the new science building but now they’ll begin the design and engineering work to make it happen over the next five years.
Yukon College, she said, will become YukonU in time for the May 2020 graduation of the first students to complete their bachelor of arts degree in Indigenous Governance.
Unlike the social work and teaching degrees that have been offered for years through Yukon College in affiliation with universities down south, the Indigenous Governance degree was designed and delivered entirely by Yukon College.
Barnes said officials have a firm commitment from Premier Sandy Silver that his government will pass the required legislation this fall to transition the college into YukonU.
They all agreed, she said, that they would look to graduation day in May 2020 as the day YukonU would become YukonU.
“So the convocation will be a big celebration of the university as well as for the students,” she said. “And then we’ll have a big party for the whole community.”
Barnes said Yukon College will cease to exist, but everything the post-secondary institute offers today will continue on.
“YukonU will be Canada’s first university North of 60, and now, with a new science building, we can combine the best of Western and Indigenous research, teaching and learning,” she said.
“This investment will allow YukonU to continue to develop northern solutions for northern problems that will transcend our institution and territory.”
In addition to the 1,200 full- and part-time credit students, the college provides continuing education opportunities for almost 5,000 other adults, from upgrading to first aid and general interest courses like bookkeeping and courses in social justice, she explained.
Barnes said they are working with the Yukon government to create a funding formula to cover the expansion to a university.
With more degree programs comes the need for more teachers and professors, along with support staff, she explained.
Barnes said the college has grown by a third in the last decade with the addition of new opportunities and responsibilities like the Centre for Northern Innovation in Mining.
It could very well grow by another third over the next 10 years, she said.
The college president said she expects the new science building will be at least twice the size of the $9-million mining building that opened in 2016.
It will be located in the green space between the seniors’ residence and the main college parking lot (see accompanying photo).
Science buildings are typically more expensive because of the additional mechanical systems that are required for containment areas and such, she explained.
Barnes noted the college is also currently looking for private partnerships and funding to support the construction of another new building beginning in the next five years.
What they are calling the “gateway building” will be a stand-alone building located partially on the parking lot in front of the Yukon Arts Centre, she explained.
Barnes said the gateway building contained in the college’s 30-year-master plan completed in 2015 will provide additional classroom space and a larger lecture theatre or mini-conference centre.
The building will have a focus on the Yukon’s story of reconciliation, and will provide a foundation to teach about modern treaties and initiatives such as aboriginal self-government, she said.
The gateway building, she said, will also have underground parking that will be available to the arts centre.
Barnes said the 30-year plan also calls for 10 years of a third building that they’re referring to as the “student hub.”
It will be an addition to the college, located in the dip between the bus-turnaround and the main building, near the main entrance, she said.
Barnes explained as the name suggests the student hub will focus on additional facilities and services for students.