Federal and provincial government part of $189.8 million in new University of Toronto funding

At the University of Toronto today, members of the federal and provincial government — including Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Developmen Navdeep Bains, Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan, and Ontario minister responsible for digital government Deb Matthews — convened to announce a major $189.8 million in the University of Toronto’s aging research lab infrastructure.

Many of U of T’s labs haven’t been updated in over 50 years, and its 50,000 square feet of “inefficient space”, as the university put it, are affected by problems ranging from asbestos to leakages. The investment, called the LIFT project, will see the university contributing $91.8 million, while the federal and provincial governments will contribute $83.7 million and $14.3 million respectively.

“We’re in need of critical repairs to remain functional and meet safety standards of 2016. Our ability to maintain a standard of excellence is being challenged by infrastructure. We have talented people limited by what they accomplish due to infrastructure,” said Daniel Haas, dean of U of T’s faculty of dentistry.

“We’re finding that the most exciting breakthroughs are happening at the intersections of different worlds of knowledge production.”

The LIFT project is retrofitting and renewing 47 percent of U of T’s research space across all three of its campuses. The renovations — which span work in medical, dental, biology, chemistry, and engineering labs — are expected to be completed by spring of 2018. The university is also working on retrofitting a former horse barn north of Toronto for ecological research, adding a green roof on the 1 Spadina Avenue building, and establishing an electro-acoustic music studio at the faculty of music.

“We’re working hard to restore science to its rightful place in government,” said Duncan, who attended U of T as a student and acted as an instructor. “When you look across the country, many labs are over 25 years of age, and if we want our students and researchers — and we have terrific world class-researchers in this country — they need to have the best equipment to do their work.”

The federal contribution is part of the government’s Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, which commits $2 billion over three years to infrastructure projects in universities and colleges across Canada and was first announced back in March as part of Canada’s innovation agenda.

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In total, 546 labs will be full renovated, providing research facilities to 1,100 researchers and an estimated 5,500 students.

During the announcement, University of Toronto president Meric Gertler said that the renovated spaces will encourage “interdisciplinary cross-collaboration” — much like the average startup incubator or accelerator.

“Increasingly we see scientists, social scientists and even those in the humanities working together to solve really tough problems that require a variety of perspectives. And in fact, we’re finding some of the most exciting breakthroughs are happening at the intersections of those different worlds of knowledge production,” Gertler told BetaKit.

While Gertler said the university already has a lot of incubator activity and nine accelerators, the idea is to support researchers in quickly bringing research to market and encouraging scale. “This investment that we’ve announced today will turbocharge that innovation or entrepreneurship dynamic,” said Gertler. “It will also help us attract and retain talent from around the world and from across the country. It’s critical because we’re well-known as a research powerhouse, but as the Ministers have said, if the space is substandard, it limits what this talented faculty and student body can do. By modernizing the space the sky is really the limit. “