Class act: $7-million gift boosts Royal Roads University

Royal Roads University students will have the use of three new laboratories and 11 classrooms following Friday’s opening of the Sherman Jen building, paid for in part by a $7-million donation.

The $24.8-million project received $9.3 million from the federal government, $5.7 million from the province and $7 million from philanthropist Sherman Jen, with the balance supplied by Royal Roads University.

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The 4,700-square-metre building includes wet labs, environmental science labs and teaching spaces equipped with digital gear.

More than half the floor space is contained within what was originally a stable called the Mews. Built in 1914 for the Dunsmuir family, it was later converted to a garage.

On Friday, Royal Roads president Allan Cahoon pointed out the attic-level door over the main entrance where bales of hay were once moved in and out of storage.

“It was about taking something old and transitioning it,” Cahoon said. “Now it’s a revolutionary new classroom and learning facility.”

Jen, founder and CEO of Maple Leaf Education Systems, one of the biggest private-sector educators in China, said the opening of the building named for him takes him back to his childhood village in China.

Most of the village children worked the fields as soon as they were able. But Jen’s parents insisted he and his siblings get an education, a gift he still appreciates.

Jen worked for a time in Vancouver, where his family was impressed by the schools. When he returned to China, he started Maple Leaf Education by blending the B.C. curriculum with Chinese culture. “Now it is my responsibility to repay my very good fortune by giving the gift of education to others,” he said.

Jonathan Wilkinson, federal minister of fisheries and oceans, said he knows first-hand how much government relies on science and scientific advice and called opening the new building a special privilege.

“Our government firmly believes the path to a better life for all Canadians is through education, research and innovation,” he said.

Melanie Mark, B.C.’s minister of advanced education, said events such as Friday’s — opening a new facility completed on time and on budget — are always a special treat for a politician.

“I’m just so proud of Royal Roads and its vision,” she said. “I’m just so gobsmacked by how impressive this new building is.”

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