Spirits were bright, like the mid-morning sun that shone down Tuesday on the groundbreaking ceremony to mark the start of construction on the Nicol Building, future home for Carleton University's Sprott School of Business.
It was a milestone moment, made possible by a $10-million donation from Tartan Homes founder Wes Nicol in 2014, to kick-start funding for an innovative new space for collaboration and learning.
"Today is a special day in the history of Carleton and, in particular, the Sprott School of Business," said retired orthopedic surgeon Chris Carruthers, chair of the university's board of governors. The former chief of medical staff at The Ottawa Hospital earned his Bachelor of Science at Carleton University before continuing on to his medical degree and executive MBA at other universities.
"This groundbreaking represents the creation of a new signature building that will shine a light on Sprott and Carleton."
The ceremony took place one day after the anniversary of the founding of Carleton University, on June 18, 1942.
Nicol, who passed away in November 2016 in his 86th year, was an alumnus of Carleton and former member of its board of governors. In 2006, Carleton awarded the successful real estate developer with an honorary doctorate for his “outstanding contributions to the governance of Carleton University, the health and spirit of the Ottawa community, and the nurturing of Canadian entrepreneurship.”
His son, Bruce Nicol, president of Tartan Homes, was at the sod-turning ceremony and was among the construction hat-wearing dignitaries to drive their shovels into the ground, while Carleton University's chief advancement officer, Jennifer Conley, led the countdown to the actual dirt digging.
"Just as every journey starts with one step so does every building start with one shovel full of soil," said Conley.
“My role here is quite simple: It’s to soak up all of the gratitude that’s been offered for my father,” Nicol told the crowd, good-humouredly. “And on behalf of my late father and on behalf of the family: You are so welcome.
“This is something we are so happy to see coming out of the ground now. It really means a lot to all of us, and I know my dad would be, of course, over the moon if he was here with us now.”
Wes Nicol was an active and involved student at Carleton University back in the 1950s, when the school was located at Lyon Street and First Avenue in the Glebe. After the building was turned into condos, it was home to him in his later years with his wife, Mary, who still lives there. In fact, the couple's living room is the same space where Nicol once took his university French lessons and wrote his French exam.
“The gift he gave for the building is really just a culmination of his lifelong relationship with the university,” said Nicol, before describing his dad as a generous father and community member. “I don't think anyone who knew Wes or worked with him would ever call him a passive donor. He had his eye on the ball. He wanted things to work out and he applied his determination.”
The son was pleased by the recent rate of progress made to build a proper home for the business school, which is currently distributed across six floors of Dunton Tower.
The new state-of-the-art, 100,000-square-foot facility, which will cost an estimated $65.1 million, is expected to open in 2020. The building has been designed by Toronto's Hariri Pontarini Architects.
“On behalf of my father and the Nicol family, we really need to say thank you to all of you who took that ball, once it started rolling, and really moved ahead in the most wonderful way." said Nicol. "The design, the timing, the location — right to this event — it’s really very impressive."
University officials spoke about how the modern new building, with its flexible classrooms, unique spaces for experiential learning, and communal meeting and event spaces, will bring researchers, faculty, labs and students all under one roof. The facility is designed to inspire learning that is creative and collaborative.
The Nicol Building will be open to students from across campus while also looking to connect with the business community and broader community, attendees heard.
After the groundbreaking ceremony, guests were invited to mingle over coffee and shortbread cookies that captured the spirit of the event with their construction-themed shapes and icing.