Algonquin College, Windmill sign Memorandum of Understanding on The Isles project

Calling it a “nation-building initiative,” Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen joined Windmill Developments co-founder Jeff Westeinde on Thursday to unveil a plan to let Algonquin students contribute ideas for Windmill’s redevelopment of the old Domtar Lands.

“When you look back when you’re 45 or 60 and you see this thriving area of Ottawa, you should feel just as proud as those apprentices that built the cathedrals in Europe,” Ms. Jensen told the crowd of students and faculty who gathered for the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the college and Windmill.

Ms. Jensen said the two organizations are the perfect fit for such a relationship.

“It’s got all those things that are so important to us here at Algonquin,” she said. “Sustainability of the city in all three ways: social sustainability, economic sustainability, environmental sustainability. It speaks to all those things.”

Ms. Jensen also invited other post-secondary institutions to join Algonquin in working on ideas for the project.

Mr. Westeinde said Windmill has always tried to integrate learning opportunities into its projects.

“In this instance, we knew we had 10-15 years, so we’ve got an opportunity to build a really long-lasting relationship with all the post-secondaries,” he said. “We went to all the local post-secondaries and said, ‘We’re here, we’d love to integrate you with our program.’”

Algonquin was the only one to come on board, he said.

“Algonquin College, not only have they stepped up, they’ve assigned a team to it, they’ve spent hard dollars on getting a relationship going.”

Architecture students at the college are busy designing 10 sustainable building design projects, while applied museum studies students are working on an integrated framework and the master plan of the site and environmental management students are analyzing past reports and doing their own soil and groundwater research.

Future projects could involve students from a number of other fields of study as well.

“We’re really eager to then take it to the next level when we start embedding co-op students,” Mr. Westeinde said. “We’ll have student-led businesses on site. Really, what can we do together to make sure students from Algonquin or anywhere in Ottawa or Gatineau get the absolute best learning opportunities they can from some of the things we’re doing.”

The student projects on display at the signing, while impressive, will likely never see the light of day in their entirety, but Mr. Westeinde said Windmill is getting some fantastic ideas to incorporate in its design for the mixed-use community.

“In an ideal world, we’ll bring some of these students back when we’re actually doing the final designs to say, ‘Look at how we’ve incorporated some of your thinking,’” he said.

In return, students get the chance to do practical work using real building sites and real building information, as well as receive plenty of professional feedback from Windmill.

The developer is now laying the groundwork for the $1-billion mega-project, with construction expected to start in 2015.

“You’ll see us launch on the Gatineau side first,” said Mr. Westeinde. “Next spring is our target, and ideally speaking, we will have people on that site next summer in one form or another in some of the buildings that we are renovating, and then from there, it rolls out.”