Just one day after Patrick Brown was elected mayor of Brampton, the Ontario government announced it was cutting the capital project funding for university campuses in Milton, Markham and Brampton.
While we can argue all day and night whether this was actually for fiscal reasons or if Premier Ford was finding yet another way to punish Patrick Brown, Brampton needs to have a clear path on how it will proceed with its relationship with Ryerson University and all the other items that were coming together to complete that vision.
Ryerson University and Brampton Partnership
The city and Ryerson need to continue fostering and strengthening their relationship by any means possible. A good university-community relationship that paid off is the partnership between Milton and Wilfrid Laurier University. While it took a decade for funding and confirmation to proceed, Milton donated land for WLU and started planning for an education and innovation district (the Milton Education Village, while WLU continued to do a lecture series over the years, establishing an educational presence in the town.
The good news is that Brampton seems to have been prepared for bad news. A notice went up on the university page that they will be proceeding with some of the plans, including the pilot incubator and co-working space in the West Tower. Details on Ryerson’s programming for the innovation hub, cybersecurity studies, and Chang School of Continuing Education courses will be revealed in the upcoming weeks. It’s possible that Ryerson and Sheridan may proceed with some programming without a new building.
Construct the Centre for Innovation as soon as possible
Councillors-elect Rowena Santos and Paul Vicente (both Wards 1 & 5) came out of the gate suggesting that the city take the funding earmarked for the Centre for Innovation (CoI) and donate it to Ryerson to build the campus.
As much as this sounds like a great idea, it only solves the capital side of the equation. While Ryerson does make some of their operating revenue from tuition fees, a large portion still comes from a provincial operating grant that the Minister of Training, Colleges, and University could refuse to increase.
Instead, the city should proceed with constructing the Centre for Innovation, albeit with a slightly different game plan. What Brampton should do is take a page from the University of Waterloo (a university that was cited as an inspiration by council candidates and Brown supporters alike) and construct the CoI as a “shell.” Many of the recent engineering buildings around UW were built like this. The structure was built, infrastructure put in, but floors were left empty until they could be used by slow expansion.
The reality is that Four Corners Library needs to be replaced. It can’t meet provincial accessibility standards without a complete and expensive overhaul so it would be cheaper to replace it, which was part of the CoI plan (and the earlier Southwest Quadrant Phase II). Brampton is also library-starved (Brampton Library staff will say they are efficient, which is true, but it’s also true to say that the city has been cheap on library expansion compared to our neighbours).
So instead, push forward. Work with Ryerson to figure out what their needs for an academic library and student space look like, and leave those floors completely empty in anticipation.
Another option is for Brampton to work with Ryerson to put an entrepreneurial zone or even some host Chang School classes in the space. The city could temporarily lease it to arts groups to accelerate the city’s vision for an Arts and Culture Quarter in downtown Brampton from the Brampton 2040 visioning exercise, too.
Ensure Assembled Land Does Not Get Sold
There will be temptation for some on council to sell the several city-purchased properties around downtown now that Ryerson funding has been put on hold. I can understand that it cost the city market value to acquire these properties, but selling now to maybe needing it down the line would be foolhardy and fiscally irresponsible.
Instead, the city should apologize to all the existing tenants and allow them to stay or move back in. While the city shouldn’t be a long-term property manager (though that is how major transit agencies like London, Hong Kong and Tokyo are profitable), keeping these buildings contributing to the local economy is more important in the short-term.
Upgrade and Future-Proof Brampton GO
This one will require negotiations with Metrolinx and is a conversation we need to have. The new GO parking lot that will go south of the tracks shouldn’t be a surface lot. It needs to be a multi-structure lot, possibly even a mixed-use building with a giant public lot underneath, similar to the news about Mimico GO Station.
This is important for two reasons. One, it’ll avoid the complaints of commuters who were about to lose half their parking for university construction. Two, if this goes ahead now and Ryerson receives funding in the near future or with a new government in charge, the campus could be built right away.
The city should also work with Metrolinx on for that future parking lot conversion. With Brampton Transit eyeing the redevelopment of the downtown bus terminal (there’s simply not enough room anymore), a good idea would be to replace the surface lot with a new underground parking lot and underground bus and future rapid transit terminal, similar to plans for CIBC Square in Toronto, which will eventually replace the Union Station GO Bus Terminal. By shunting the parking and transit terminal underground (and building supports on top), the city gains not just one plot for campus expansion, but another in potentially redeveloping 10 Nelson Street as well.
These are just some of the smarter ideas to make do until a time for more appropriate funding comes. The most important thing is that Ryerson and Brampton have to become stable partners for the long-term, and not drop out just because the short-term is bleak.