It was a packed house as Brock University officially opened the Brock LINC on Friday, Feb. 21. The innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration hub is housed within the Rankin Family Pavilion at the base of Schmon Tower.
From brainstorming an idea to producing a prototype with a 3D printer to testing out consumer reaction in a virtual reality lab, the Brock LINC presents a world of opportunities for entrepreneurs and researchers alike.
Whether those ideas come from the minds of students, researchers or community members, the doors are now open — both literally and figuratively — to a transformational new innovation space at Brock University.
Brock students, faculty and staff joined officials from all levels of government on Friday, Feb. 21 to officially open the Brock LINC, which stands for Learn, Innovate, Network and Collaborate.
“Today, we celebrate the dawn of a new era of possibility for the Niagara region,” Brock University President Gervan Fearon said during the ceremony. “Our key priorities involve fostering a culture of inclusivity and accessibility, offering a transformational university experience, building Brock’s research capacity, and enhancing the vitality of communities in Niagara and beyond. The Brock LINC is a catalyst to help us achieve all of those goals and we have many of you here today to thank for that.”
The $19-million Brock LINC project, first announced in 2016, moved forward with funding from both the federal and provincial governments, as well as from the University itself and the generous donations of community partners such as Tom Rankin, for whom the Rankin Family Pavilion in which the Brock LINC is housed, is named.
“Modern learning spaces play a critical part in supporting skills development to prepare students for the jobs of today and tomorrow,” said Hon. Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry. “This important investment at Brock University will help students advance the next generation of leading-edge research and innovation in Canada.”
The construction project involved converting the former open-air pedestrian mall in front of Schmon Tower into a 41,000-square-foot research, innovation and commercialization centre. The two-storey building includes: open spaces for networking and collaboration; a new makerspace to design, build and prototype; cutting-edge labs for digital scholarship and virtual reality research; entrepreneurial space for early-stage business ideas and start-ups; and multi-purpose rooms and meeting spaces for learning and sharing.
To create those spaces, contractors faced the extremely complex challenge of marrying a modern glass and steel structure to the 52-year-old concrete tower and surrounding buildings.
It took some time, but it was worth the wait.
“Investing in the success of our students is an investment into all of our futures,” said Hon. Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities. “Projects like Brock LINC will ensure that students in Niagara have access to learning environments that will encourage collaboration, resourcefulness, and gives the skills and training they need to meet the labour market needs in the Niagara region.”
The new facilities will provide the Brock community with space to experience and experiment with entrepreneurship and will add a strategic asset within Niagara’s innovation ecosystem that supports a greater number of research and development partnerships between Brock and Niagara’s businesses and social organizations. Brock is known for its leadership in experiential and co-op education, and the Brock LINC will advance entrepreneurial teaching and learning at the University.
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Friday’s ceremony also served as a celebration to mark the completion of Brock’s District Energy Efficiency Project (DEEP).
Located in the Central Utilities Building along the edge of the Niagara Escarpment, Brock’s 25-year-old co-generation engines have been replaced with state-of-the-art energy efficient units, which provide a reliable source of electricity, cooling and heating on campus.
Friday, Feb. 21 also marked the completion of Brock’s District Energy Efficiency Project. Pictured cutting the ribbon are Brock Vice-President, Academic Greg Finn, Brock Board of Trustees Chair Gary Comerford, Brock Vice-President, Research Tim Kenyon, Brock Senior Associate Vice-President of Operations and Infrastructure Services Scott Johnstone, Minister of International Development the Hon. Karina Gould, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Colleges and Universities David Piccini, Brock President Gervan Fearon, Niagara Centre MP Vance Badawey, Niagara Falls MP Tony Baldinelli and Brock University Graduate Students’ Association President Christopher Yendt.
For the first phase of the project, the University received nearly $5.2 million in funding from the Government of Canada’s Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment. Brock also contributed $5.4 million, which included its annual allotment of deferred maintenance from the Government of Ontario. These funds allowed Brock to update the facility’s gas-powered engines and controls, as well as chillers and water lines, replacing them with newer, more efficient units and reducing Brock’s carbon output.
The second phase of the project was funded by the Government of Ontario, which provided $7.9 million through the Greenhouse Gas Campus Retrofits Program Innovation Grant Fund. This phase completed the modernization of the co-generation plant, including the replacement of the remaining four engines with two high-efficiency engines and a new energy efficient chiller.
“By conducting a massive overhaul to our on-site district energy system, the DEEP project significantly improves Brock’s energy efficiency, lowers our emissions and puts us on track to meeting our environmental sustainability goals,” said Scott Johnstone, Senior Associate Vice-President of Operations and Infrastructure Services at Brock. “It also creates a resilient energy system supplying reliable electricity, heat and cooling to our growing campus, which will support the Brock community for decades to come.”
The completed DEEP project has resulted in an 85 per cent decrease in Brock’s NOx emissions and a 25 per cent reduction in carbon emissions. The new co-generation engines also consume 26 per cent less fuel and result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in utility cost savings each year.
Hon. Karina Gould, Minister of International Development
“The Brock LINC and the upgrades to the co-generation facility are two direct success stories of the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund. As a result of our government’s investment, students, teachers and researchers will now work in state-of-the-art facilities that advance our country’s best research and continue to allow Canada to be a world leader in turning ideas into solutions.”
Vance Badawey, Member of Parliament, Niagara Centre
“It’s always a pleasure to partner with Brock University to enhance the educational experience for our students. Investment in education is one of the keys to ensuring the longstanding success and prosperity of the Niagara region.”
Chris Bittle, Member of Parliament, St. Catharines
“Brock LINC is an entrepreneurial space that will challenge the next generation of innovators to create solutions to real-world problems. This space provides an incredible opportunity for students to turn ideas into inventions, turn solutions into action and apply research in a new way that will not only benefit their studies, it will benefit the Niagara community, our country and our world.”
Hon. Prabmeet Sarkaria, Associate Minister of Small Business and Red Tape Reduction
“Innovation will be a key driver of Ontario’s economic growth and development in the years ahead, and Brock University’s LINC initiative is helping build the Ontario of tomorrow, today. By creating a dedicated space that supports innovation, entrepreneurship and collaboration, Brock is creating fertile ground for the ideas that will help shape Ontario’s future.”
David Piccini, Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of Colleges and Universities
“I am thrilled to be here at Brock University to highlight the important investment our government is making to upgrade equipment and fund innovative research. The opening of Brock LINC is an exciting time for Brock and the Niagara region and will broaden horizons for our next generation and better prepare them for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”
Tim Kenyon, Vice-President, Research, Brock University
“Brock LINC is about making connections that would otherwise have been unlikely. Its facilities and programs will link creativity with application and researcher expertise with entrepreneurial opportunity. Partnerships with our researchers enable solutions to problems and development of ideas in new and sometimes unexpected directions.”
Farzana Crocco, Brock LINC Executive Director
“The Brock LINC is where innovation, research and entrepreneurship converge at the University,” she said. “While the resources in each of these areas are numerous at Brock, there has never been a central place to access them or explore how they can work together. The Brock LINC provides that central point of access to navigate what’s available, but will also build programs to connect different parts of the University in new and interesting ways.”