$32.6M in federal funding for new Engineering 7 building

New building will house research on machine intelligence, mobile robotics, autonomous vehicles and wearable biomedical devices

By Brian Caldwell

Faculty of Engineering

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The spirit of risk-taking at the University of Waterloo paid dividends today when federal cabinet minister Bardish Chagger announced $32.6 million in funding for the new Engineering 7 building now under construction on the east campus.

“I’m confident that this new facility will lead to discoveries that will bring significant benefits to our country,” said Chagger, the Waterloo MP who serves as both Government House Leader and the Minister of Small Business and Tourism.

There was no federal commitment in place when a decision was made to proceed with the state-of-the-art, $88-million building to accommodate more students, hands-on learning spaces and research on disruptive technologies including machine intelligence, mobile robotics, autonomous vehicles and wearable biomedical devices.

But with a few hundred people looking on during the announcement at the Sedra Student Design Centre in Engineering 5, President and Vice-Chancellor Feridun Hamdullahpur said that approach was perfectly in keeping with the University’s 60-year history of risk-taking, innovation and doing things differently.

“We didn’t want to wait,” he said, joking that he and Dean of Engineering Pearl Sullivan discussed bake sales and bottle drives as a backup plan. “We started building it with or without money.”

dignitaries  at Engineering 7 funding announcement

(Left to Right) Feridun Hamdullahpur, President & Vice-Chancellor, Bill Pristanski, Board of Governors, Pearl Sullivan, Dean of Engineering, Stephen Lake, Co-Founder of Thalmic Labs, Kathryn McGarry, Minister of Natural Resources and Forestry, Bardish Chagger, Minister of Small Business and Tourism, Bryan May, MP Cambridge, Raj Saini,  MP Kitchener Centre, Ken Seiling, Waterloo Regional Chair

The federal support is coming from the Post-Secondary Institutions Strategic Investment Fund, a $2-billion initiative launched in 2016 to enhance and modernize research facilities on Canadian campuses to help put them at the forefront of innovation and create good, middle-class jobs.

The seven-storey, 240,000-square-foot building, scheduled for completion in the spring of 2018, is also being financed by $10 million from the University and currently $36.5 million in donations from private sector donors.

“It is so gratifying to everyone here at the University of Waterloo that so many people believe in what we are doing,” Sullivan said.

With a soaring atrium and enclosed pedestrian bridges linking it to the existing Engineering 5 building, Engineering 7 will be one of the largest buildings on campus. A focal point will be the Engineering Ideas Clinic, where students will be taught theoretical concepts through experiential learning.

It will also feature seven lecture halls, 20 garages for student design teams and 40 research labs, including a cutting-edge additive manufacturing (3D printing) lab and RoboHub, a unique testing facility for aerial, mobile and magnetically levitated robots.

“What is going to be done here in Engineering 7 is going to be remarkable because it brings so many pieces of excellence together,” Hamdullahpur said.

Sullivan said the engineering student body is expected to grow from 9,400 to almost 11,000 in the next four years as Engineering 7 becomes home to a new biomedical engineering program and mechatronics engineering, which is expected to double its enrolment.

Stephen Lake, a co-founder of Thalmic Labs Inc. with fellow Waterloo Engineering mechatronics graduates Aaron Grant and Matthew Bailey, was on hand for the announcement as a University supporter and “real-life case study.”

In just over four years since the trio left school and started Thalmic in the Velocity incubator, the Kitchener-based maker of the Myo armband has grown to 160 employees and raised well over $100 million in funding from investors.

“We owe much of our success to date to the many programs here at the University,” Lake said, adding he is looking forward to the construction of “Engineering 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 to come.”