Nicol Building to take Ottawa’s Sprott School of Business to ‘that next level’

State-of-the-art new home will help Carleton business school attract top students and faculty, raise profile in community, proponents say


When Jerry Tomberlin arrived at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business nine years ago, his colleagues wasted no time letting him know where his priorities should lie.

For years, the school’s students and professors had been scattered throughout campus with no dedicated facility of their own. Mr. Tomberlin, then Sprott’s freshly minted dean, was about to be interviewed on a local radio show when a co-worker made his expectations for his new boss abundantly clear.

“Just before me, one of the professors from Sprott, Ian Lee, had been on and he mentioned that there was a new dean, and the new dean was going to make sure we get a building,” Mr. Tomberlin recalls with a laugh.

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The longtime academic and business consultant can chuckle over that memory today, knowing he’s achieved the goal he and many others have been chasing for so long. Last month, the university’s board of governors gave its stamp of approval to Sprott’s $48-million new home – a state-of-the-art, 100,000-square-foot facility that will finally bring the school’s 2,600 students and 87 staff and faculty members together under one roof.

The announcement was a long time coming, but for Mr. Tomberlin it was worth the wait.

“I never gave up,” he says. “I knew it was going to happen. I just didn’t know when it was going to happen.”

Designed by Toronto’s Hariri Pontarini Architects, the new building will be located in the heart of campus next to the University Centre, the Architecture Building and the new Health Sciences Building.

Proponents say the six-storey structure – christened the Nicol Building after well-known entrepreneur, philanthropist and Carleton alumnus Wes Nicol, whose $10-million donation in 2014 kickstarted the funding drive – will take the business school to the “next level” by providing cutting-edge classroom and meeting facilities that will attract top-tier students and faculty from Canada and beyond.

“If you go to any other university campus that has a business school of any size, you’ll see a physical presence. It’s been hard for us without that to compete.”

“Facilities are extremely important for business schools,” says Mr. Tomberlin, who is now Carleton’s interim provost and vice-president academic. “If you go to any other university campus that has a business school of any size, you’ll see a physical presence. It’s been hard for us without that to kind of compete on all levels. We have a great MBA program, but we don’t have much in the way of facilities for them to kind of showcase what a program we have.

“It’s not going to make us the best business school in the world overnight; you have to have the content. But it’s going to allow a platform to showcase ourselves better. I think Sprott is entering into a new era with this.”

Construction on the new facility is slated to begin next year, with completion targeted for 2020. Sprott will then have a home of its own after decades of being headquartered in Dunton Tower, where it must share space with other faculties and meeting rooms for clubs and employer-student interviews are a scarce commodity.

In addition to plenty of meeting rooms, the new building will feature dedicated space for Carleton Entrepreneurs, an accelerator designed to help students from all disciplines launch and grow their own business ventures. It will also house initiatives such as the Sprott Student Investment Fund, an equity portfolio run by Sprott commerce and international business students.

‘Sense of community’

“It shows a lot as to how we’re growing and how much potential there is, so when employers are coming and we’re able to invite them into this very professional, well-defined space, that will reflect very well on our students and the value that we put into this program,” says fourth-year international business student Alex Wadey, who also serves as a vice-president at Sprott’s student society.

“Hopefully, that will be translated into the companies that will interact with us. It’s all about bringing Sprott up to that next level.”


Ryan Baan, the society’s vice-president of marketing, agrees.

“We have one room right now, and it’s not a whole lot of space for clubs to be planning events, hosting events, meeting regularly,” explains the fourth-year commerce student. “With the new building, it’ll keep everything in one spot and really build that sense of community and that sense of home for all of us students.”

One of the chief criticisms of Sprott is the school lacks a common gathering place for students and staff to have random interactions, Mr. Tomberlin says. Such chance meetings are “all about where creativity and innovation and things that you haven’t even thought of before come about – not because you set up a formal meeting but because you ran into somebody and you had this conversation.”

To that end, the Nicol Building’s signature space will be a central ground-floor atrium where students and professors can hang out, chat and bounce ideas off each other.

“Everybody who enters the building will have to go through there,” Mr. Tomberlin says. “Anybody who has any business at Sprott is going to run into everybody else in that atrium area. There aren’t that many open spaces on campus where that can happen.”

Instructor Andrew Webb, who joined the faculty this year from Laval University, says not having a building of its own is holding Sprott back from achieving its full potential.

“It’s really difficult to connect with your other researchers and to create a sense of esprit de corps,” he explains.

The veteran academic has been brought in to launch the school’s new project-based learning program, which is designed to teach students management skills while helping local organizations solve real-world problems. Sprott’s current configuration makes that a challenge, he says, because there’s no “one-stop shop” for businesses that want to be partners in the program.

“Right now, if they wanted something, they don’t really know where to go,” Mr. Webb says. “Any business, your brand has to be coherent with your physical installation. Your physical installations are sending a message. If your physical installations are connected, they’re creative. That’s what this faculty is about.”

Ms. Wadey says having a building to call their own will give Sprott students a greater sense of pride and identity.

“A physical place really adds to that – having somewhere where we can showcase Sprott, and if that’s in a nice, shiny building, I think that makes it even better,” she says. “It really makes the Sprott School of Business a player at Carleton University – if it wasn’t already.”

Mr. Tomberlin’s only disappointment is that Mr. Nicol, who died last year, won’t be around to see the finished project. But his legacy will live on in future generations of entrepreneurs trained in the building that bears his name.

“We’ve hired all the right people, we have good students, and now we’re going to have a great building,” the former dean says. “Now it’s all about raising the profile of the school in the external community, and I think we have everything else in place to do that.”

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