It will be a monumental task to collect some $80 million in funding to support a major expansion at Cape Breton University.
As one of the province’s smallest schools in terms of student population, CBU must compete with nine other universities for funding in a have-not province like Nova Scotia.
CBU President David Dingwall is now his school’s fundraiser-in-chief as he pitches his school’s plans to political, business and other leaders in hopes of them cutting a cheque for the project.
"It's all about the future," Dingwall said earlier this month in announcing the project to build a Centre for Discovery and Innovation.
The proposed 80,000 square-foot centre will replace aging infrastructure with new research and training laboratories and new instructional facilities. It will also be home to the Marshall Institute – named after Donald Marshall Jr. of Membertou — that will focus on environmental justice and Indigenous approaches to climate change.
As to project selling points, Dingwall said the centre will further attract international students, better train public health practitioners for future pandemic challenges, honour the legacy of Donald Marshall Jr., and help drive population growth and the economic health of Cape Breton.
Dingwall called on the community to lobby MLAs and other government officials to support the project.
MLA Keith Bain, Progressive Conservative member for Victoria The Lakes, told the Cape Breton Post that he and party colleagues Murray Ryan, MLA for Northside-Westmount, and Brian Comer, MLA for Sydney River-Mira-Louisbourg, recently attended a meeting with Dingwall to learn first-hand of the proposal and take a tour of the campus.
“The need certainly does exist and has our support in trying to bring it forward. CBU is such a generator for our community, providing opportunities for residents to learn closer to home and to bring in international students, many of whom want to make Cape Breton their home,” said Bain, in speaking for himself and his colleagues.
Bain said while an ambitious and costly venture, his party, currently in opposition, is committed to working with CBU to help make the project happen.
The only other Tory MLA on the island is Allan MacMaster who represents the riding of Inverness and his response to the project is a bit more tepid than his colleagues.
“This is quite a distance away from our constituency so it has not been a project on minds here. In general, CBU is a great university and I think they are offering solid education programs for people here so they can stay close to home,” said MacMaster.
The school is now home to some 5,000 students, of which 30.8 per cent hail from Nova Scotia while 7.6 per cent come from the remaining provinces and territories. The school’s largest population base hails from the international community, registering 61.6 per cent.
As of January 2020 — prior to the pandemic — international students were contributing $165 million to the Cape Breton economy, the university has stated.
Cabinet minister and Liberal MLA for Sydney-Whitney Pier Derek Mombourquette said when it comes to priorities, he has no commitment to the CBU project at the time given the nearly billion-dollar developments currently underway in the local areas.
He said construction of a new community college, hospital and cancer centre expansions, a new Horizon Achievement Centre and community hospice have all received provincial funding.
“Priorities are now underway and I think this is an exciting time,” said Mombourquette, a CBU graduate.
“We are now in the midst of the largest construction boom in Cape Breton,” he said, adding other projects continue to get added to the list including a revamping of the entertainment and sports complex, Sydney’s Centre 200.
Federal Liberal MP Mike Kelloway, also a graduate of CBU and former employee, said he is fully aware of the project and does deem the project a priority for the region.
He said he has seen the benefits of international students attending the school in terms of economic spinoffs including the creation of new businesses.
“There is lots of talent, skill and ability in that organization and I will work hand in glove to help get this project going,” he said.
His Liberal colleague from Sydney-Victoria, Jaime Battiste, also expressed support for the project.
“I will continue to work closely with president Dingwall and all levels of government to support this new development and I look forward to discussing funding opportunities around education and infrastructure for the communities across Cape Breton as they become available,” said Battiste, a former student and faculty member at CBU.
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