$23 Million Worth Of Life-sized Lego

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Think of it as one of the largest Lego projects you’ve ever seen in your life.

That, in a way, will be the construction method – really, the assembly method – of St. Clair’s new, 512-bed residence, unveiled during a press conference held in the lobby of the existing dorm building (Quittenton Hall) on February 28.

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The new, five-storey tall building will be assembled, unit by unit, from pre-fabricated, steel-box structures during the next few months – and should be mostly completed by late fall, and ready for occupancy by the New Year.

The $23 million project – like Quittenton Hall – is being developed by a private-sector company, which will recoup its investment by acting as the landlord/manager of the new residence.

The college’s phenomenal enrolment growth during the past half-decade (chiefly in the form of international students), coupled with the local shortage of affordable rental housing, made the expansion of on-campus accommodations a necessity.

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“This welcome wave of newcomers desperately needs a ‘home away from home’,” said college President Patti France. “This new residence project will provide just that: an on-campus atmosphere of comfort, convenience and camaraderie, where they can fully enjoy their time at St. Clair, in Windsor, and in Canada.” (Although the global influx spurred the project, lodgings will certainly be available for domestic/Canadian students too.)

France also introduced the private-sector partners of the development:

“The college is so pleased that its partners in this development are long-standing corporate friends.

“The developer and manager of the new residence is the Global Education Mihome Corporation. Several of its principals also serve as the owners and directors of Toronto’s Ace Acumen Academy, the private school with which St. Clair has had a ‘sister school’ relationship for over half-a-decade. GEM’s experience with – and caring treatment of – international students is unparalleled, and it is ideally suited for this new role.

“The truly innovative, phase-by-phase construction of this facility involves the manufacturing expertise of the Z-Modular Corporation. That is a subsidiary of Zekelman Industries – which, of course, is owned by our corporate patrons, Barry and Stephanie Zekelman.” (That couple’s foundation donated money several years ago to allow the Business program to expand to its new downtown building – thus the re-christening of the School of Business and Information Technology with the Zekelman name. A Zekelman donation is also funding the construction of the indoor tennis facility in the college’s new Sports Park.)

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College Board of Governors Chair Nancy Jammu-Taylor remarked upon the unique building method, saying, “My Board colleagues are especially excited by the innovative modular construction method being utilized here. We hope that everyone involved in finding solutions to our area’s affordable housing crisis – both in the private and public sectors – will look at this project as a viable and expeditious means of easing that situation. It isn’t just a great solution for the college, it may be answer for our community-at-large too.”

St. Clair Student Representative Council President Kiara Clement commended the college and its private partners for addressed the accommodation challenges faced by students, and promised that her organization would help to make the new campus-dwellers feel at home: “The SRC will continue to do its part to ensure that the occupants of this new residence are made to feel welcome from the first day of their move-in; and remain fully involved throughout their time here in everything the college has to offer in terms of services, facility use, entertainment and social activities. In fact, helping with the residence move-in process in late-August and early-September is the very first task that SRC Directors tackle at the launch of every academic year – so, I suppose we’ll have to double our energy for that effort this September.”

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“There is really something to be said for on-campus housing, as opposed to off-campus renting,” Clement added. “The atmosphere of living with one’s fellow students, creating life-long friendships with them, and being in ultra-convenient proximity to all of the college’s activities and services makes the residence experience an unmatchable housing option.”

Introduced by Chatham-Kent-Leamington MPP Rick Nicholls, Ministry of Colleges and Universities Parliament Assistant David Piccini praised France as “a visionary, for finding innovative partnerships ... for better student outcomes”.

He also thanked the Acumen/GEM “for investing in Ontario’s public postsecondary system”.

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It is public/private partnerships such as that between St. Clair and Acumen (for education) and GEM (for campus housing) that are key to Ontario’s ability to attract and serve international students – and to lure immigrants to stay in Canada to help address the economic skills gap, Piccini added.

In his brief remarks, John Wu of Acumen/GEM said he and his co-investors were pleased to be serving the students of St. Clair College, and – especially – making international enrollees “safe and secure upon their arrival in Canada”.