Fanshawe's Innovation Village nearing its first phase

Header image for Interrobang article CREDIT: DYLAN CHARETTE
Innovation Village, a collaborative learning space that will transform Forwell Hall and the library, is expected to start its first phase of development just before the holidays.

Fanshawe College’s Innovation Village is expected to start Phase One of its development before the New Year.

Innovation Village is described on the College’s website as a hub where students and faculty can collaborate with the greater London, Ont. community.

Anne Marie DeCicco-Best, Fanshawe’s executive advisor and government relations, said that Innovation Village will be in three phases, and is expected to be completed by the spring of 2023. The first phase is expected to begin just before the College community begins their Christmas Break.

“One thing we found and kept hearing feedback on from the community partners was that it is sometimes very difficult to find a way into Fanshawe if you don’t know someone or don’t know a program or aren’t familiar with the way our system works,” said DeCicco-Best.

She added that Innovation Village will become a hub for business, industry, and community partners to connect with students and faculty.

“Lots of other colleges and universities are finding right across this country,” she said. “That if you really want to be part of the economic dynamic of a community, then finding a way into the College in the easiest, quickest, most efficient way, is a very essential part of that.”

DeCicco-Best said that Innovation Village will cost $58-million and cover 66,000 square feet of renovations.

She added that the College is looking for all three levels of government to provide funding. In spring 2019, Fanshawe sent in their FedDev Ontario application, asking the federal government for $15 million dollars. The College is also looking for $3 million from the London Community Grants program, which could be spread over four years.

“We weren’t expecting that we would need it all at the same time,” DeCicco-Best said.

She expects to hear back about federal funding after the Oct. 21 federal election and that the College’s Innovation Village funding request could be part of London’s municipal budget process in the winter. Next year, the College will look towards provincial funding.

The Strategic Priorities and Policy Committee voted 13-0 to acknowledge they received Fanshawe’s presentation during the Sept. 30 meeting at City Hall. Ward 10 Councillor Paul Van Meerbergen withdrew from voting because he’s a father to two Fanshawe students.

During that meeting, Fanshawe College president Peter Devlin presented the College’s goals of Innovation Village to the committee. DeCicco-Best and David Belford, Innovation Village’s executive director, were also present.

Devlin said the food processing, technology, health, and digital creative industries in particular will see significant changes and challenges in the future. He added today’s grads will work in about five different industries with 17 different jobs over their career, and that 65 per cent of current elementary school students will work in jobs that are not yet existent.

“At Fanshawe, we believe the best way to predict the future is to invent it,” he said.

Devlin further described what Innovation Village will look like when complete. Students will receive support for their research, entrepreneurial, and creative tasks in collaborative workspaces, a makerspace, and multimedia and virtual reality labs.

The students will be supervised by knowledgeable professors. Fanshawe’s grads, both domestic and international, will be fully equipped with the skills they need for London’s workforce. In the first three years of Innovation Village, the College will have 500 new external partnerships.

Jason Bates, the general manager for the London Region Manufacturing Council, said at the presentation that he speaks to hundreds in the manufacturing industry. He said that they’re eager to work with Fanshawe, but aren’t sure where to go and feel like they don’t have the time to sort through lots of information.

“The Innovation [Village] will allow them to have one call, one point access to get into Fanshawe to access all the services and students and everything Fanshawe has to offer for the manufacturing sector to create a closer and more successful working relationship with the College,” Bates said.

Darryl Bedford, the president of Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) Local 110, represents Fanshawe’s librarians, professors, and counselors. He said that above all else, the union wants to make sure that the College’s faculty and students are supported throughout the Innovation Village process and after it’s built.

“Building links with industry is not such a bad idea, but how will faculty be supported in that work? Will they be given time to do it? Will their students have the time to do these projects? Who will own the work?” Bedford said. “You know, if a student comes up with a clever idea that a business picks up and uses, are they going to be compensated for that? Will the business have permission to do that? So there are questions to be answered. I’m hopeful that the College will answer these questions and I think that if all these questions are answered, then it’s going to make for a better project and a better development.”

He added that while the union does not think the project shouldn’t receive government funding, faculty are dealing with issues as is, including a lack of classroom space. Bedford added that with classes on main campus running from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Downtown Campus classes running even later — from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. — there needs to be more flexibility because both students and faculty have families of their own.

“If we’re going to have major expansions of the College, then let’s look at space. Let’s look at how space is being used, and let’s see if we can help with that problem.”

Bedford added that he does see some benefits to Innovation Village. He said that libraries and librarians are needed more than ever in the information age, so a renovation to the library is much needed. Bedford spoke of other potential positive outcomes.

“I think it could free up some other space in the College. It could also support some of our members. It could allow some of our members to improve the learning experience for students if students are working on hands-on projects,” he said. “If it’s experiential learning, that’s a good thing, but we need to make sure that our members are supported and that the students who are working on these things, that are supported as well. So this could be a very good thing, but we’ll be looking for that level of support on an ongoing basis. I do not want to see a fancy building get built and then our faculty and our students not in a position to be able to use it.”