When Tom Rankin walked into the space bearing his family’s name on Friday, he was taken aback.
“This blows me away,” he told a small group gathered in the Rankin Family Pavilion following a tour of the facility.
The walkthrough was part of an intimate event held Nov. 26 to honour Rankin, a prominent Niagara businessman, and his family for the $2-million gift that helped to transform Brock’s main entrance.
The former Brock University Board of Trustees member, who started Rankin Construction in 1978, remembers the former open-air pedestrian mall once found at the base of the Schmon Tower. For years, he envisioned seeing it enclosed and turned into a focal point for the University.
But touring the Rankin Family Pavilion for the first time since its completion in late 2019 left him in disbelief.
“I never thought that this small gift would turn into this. I’m flabbergasted,” Rankin said as his wife, Beth, and several family members looked on. “What a beautiful, beautiful space. I’m really honoured that you’d name it after the Rankin family.”
The $19-million construction project, which moved forward with funding from both the federal and provincial governments, converted the space at the base of Schmon Tower into a modern, purpose-built 41,000-square-foot research, innovation and commercialization centre.
Although the Rankin Family Pavilion opened its doors in late 2019, the global COVID-19 pandemic moved classes online just a few months later and essentially sent campus into an 18-month state of quiet.
With the return of in-person classes in September came a resurgence of activity, with the RFP quickly becoming a hub for gathering, learning, research and innovation.
“When we opened the doors after a year and a half of a very difficult time, it was the Rankin Family Pavilion that sprang to life,” said Interim Brock University President Lynn Wells. “It was a joy to walk in there to see students gathering, sitting together and talking — just being real students.”
While the Rankin Family Pavilion is now the front entrance to the University, it’s more than a physical structure, Wells said.
“It’s a way of welcoming the community inside to grow,” she said. “Every university needs a place that opens its hands and its hearts to the community and says, ‘You are welcome here.’”
Home to the Brock LINC, a transformational innovation space that offers opportunities for students, entrepreneurs and researchers alike, the Rankin Family Pavilion helped to signal a new era of community engagement for the University.
“What you have given us here is a tremendous gift,” Wells expressed to the Rankin family. “It will be a significant part of the Brock University community for many years to come. We are enormously grateful.”
As part of the event, a plaque was unveiled that will now live on the main floor of the RFP, in addition to a Rankin Family Pavilion sign outside of the building.
University Chancellor Hilary Pearson said the Rankin Family Pavilion, in many ways, showcases what is special about Brock itself.
“It gives students a wonderful space for shared learning and celebration, it’s a place for collaboration and sharing ideas, and it serves as an incubator for bright young minds, where entrepreneurs can experiment and come up with solutions to issues, including those related to the pandemic crisis,” she said. “Giving people a space to connect and learn in these shared spaces, there’s no parallel for that.”
Pearson said the University continues to benefit from a strong culture of philanthropy and thanked the Rankin family for the “truly outstanding demonstration of philanthropic generosity at Brock.”
Brock University Students’ Union President Rafay Rehan said the Rankin Family Pavilion, which will impact students for years to come, is emblematic of the University’s growth and progress.
“As Brock continues to grow in reputation and size, so does the need for additional study space, and having a building as beautiful as the Rankin Family Pavilion makes those late nights of studying a little bit more enjoyable,” he said. “It also highlights unique opportunities for development and entrepreneurship on campus.”
The Brock University Library’s Makerspace and Digital Scholarship Lab, and the R3CL (Physical, Augmented and Virtual Reality Consumer Lab) housed in the RFP put a spotlight on how Brock can “be the stepping-stone young entrepreneurs need to launch their careers,” he said. “It’s clear how the Rankin Family Pavilion helps solidify Brock as a leader in this regard.”
Christopher Yendt, President of the Graduate Students’ Association, said the space also speaks the University’s commitment to the growth of graduate studies.
“We now have a facility that really provides new opportunities for students to pursue grad studies and get interested in grad studies during their undergrad,” he said. “For that, myself and all of us at the Graduate Students’ Association are tremendously thankful for the gift, the support and the generosity of the Rankin family in building this incredible structure.”