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University of Ottawa branches out with new STEM complex

University of Ottawa branches out with new STEM complex
The University of Ottawa is in the midst of building a state-of-the art facility designed to significantly increase space for research, innovation, experiential learning and entrepreneurship.

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) complex will house open-concept "super labs," 3-D printing Makerspaces, an entrepreneurship hub and multidisciplinary spaces.

Designed by Perkins + Will Canada, the research and teaching facility will complement the university's existing Advanced Research Complex, dedicated to photonics and geoscience.

The university is intent on becoming one of Canada's top five research intensive universities.

"The STEM complex will defy the conventional by taking a multi-sector approach to research, breaking down silos and delivering new synergies," said Mona Nemer, the university's vice-president, research.

"It will inspire innovative startups and drive the transfer of new technologies."

Construction costs are estimated at $128 million.

The complex, being built by PCL Constructors Canada Inc., will consolidate several departments from the faculties of science and engineering under one roof.

It will also house the Brunsfield Centre, a dedicated space that allows students to build and test complex prototypes.

The complex replaces MacDonald Hall, built in the mid-1960s, and the CUBE, built in 1950 as a temporary structure. Both had reached the end of their useful lives.

"The interior spaces are designed to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and to put science, math and engineering on display," said architect Andrew Frontini, a principal at Perkins + Will.

"Transparency and multi-storey spaces allow visitors to see a rich array of research and testing activities as they navigate the building."

The building, with an estimated 29,000 gross square metres of space, has six storeys above grade and two below grade, plus a large mechanical penthouse.

Site preparation got underway in the summer of 2016, with construction beginning that fall. Substantial completion is scheduled for April 2018.

The project is being undertaken by a team that includes project manager CBRE Ltd., landscape architects Lashley & Associates, mechanical-electrical engineers Bouthillette Parizeau and structural engineers Cleland Jardine Engineering Ltd.

Claudio Brun Del Re, chief architect, campus development at the university, said the single largest challenge from a construction perspective is the schedule required to satisfy government funding requirements.

The project is being financed in part by $51.5 million in federal funding and $6.4 million from the province of Ontario. The remaining funds will come from university sources.

"Adding to the complexity and speed of this large project were 23 precursor projects to move existing research labs and academic spaces prior to demolition of MacDonald Hall," Brun Del Re said.

"Had we not achieved those early milestones, the project would not be the success that it is."

The concrete structure was expected to be topped off by the end of August. The building is to be enclosed by the end of December.

Schedule aside, the complex is being constructed on a tight site, "on a perpetually active" campus, and adjacent to the city's Confederation Line Light Rapid Transit (LRT) project.

"The collaboration with the city and the LRT contractors has been excellent," Brun Del Re said.

One block away is another major campus project, the $83 million Learning Centre, a build dedicated entirely to student spaces. The contractor is Pomerleau.

"Material deliveries all arrive at the same spot," Brun Del Re said, noting that co-ordination of deliveries have represented "a major logistical feat."

The STEM project also intersects with campus underground service tunnels in two locations, requiring major work to update the central plant district heating and cooling infrastructure.

"This was a huge challenge that has been met with much success and without service interruptions," said Brun Del Re, who has been a driving force behind transformation of the campus since joining the university as resident architect in 1993.

Located in the heart of Canada's capital, the University of Ottawa is the largest bilingual university in the world. It offers more than 450 programs in 10 faculties.

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