Feds boost plan to relocate UVic’s Ocean Networks Canada

The University of Victoria has received a major boost in its plans to relocate Ocean Networks Canada, which conducts state-of the-art underwater research, from its base on the main campus to the Queenswood property on Arbutus Road.

The federal government said Tuesday that $3.1 million is being provided for the project, which could see ONC in renovated space on the six-hectare site by March 2018. UVic is contributing $3.9 million to the effort to refurbish an existing 30,000-square-foot building on the property.

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Plans call for the building, a former residential complex, to be turned into offices and research space. The land was bought from the Sisters of St. Ann in 2010.

The concept has other programs moving to the site to create an “ocean and climate hub,” UVic president Jamie Cassels said at an event to announce the funding, held at the UVic Centre.

ONC president Kate Moran said new headquarters would be a step forward for the program, which operates systems of sensor cables on the ocean floor, gather data about the marine environment.

“We’re really a high-tech organization,” she said. “We have 110 people and most of them are scientists, engineers, technicians, and so we really need a space that’s tailored for incredibly interactive people.

“So having the ability to actually model it after some new, high-tech spaces is pretty exciting for us.”

Cassels said the plan to move to Queenswood still involves a public process.

UVic held an open house in September. The concept being put forward does not involve an increased building footprint or new structures. “We’ve begun having conversations with the neighbours and with [Saanich] council,” Cassels said.

He said the idea is to take a low-impact approach. “It’s putting the property to the kind of use that’s compatible with it, we think.”

Also announced Tuesday was $1.5 million in federal funding for the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre, which has operated on Vancouver Island’s west coast since 1972.

The federal money is being matched by a group contribution from the five universities that own the site: UVic, the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Alberta and the University of Calgary.

Centre director Brad Anholt said the funding will be used for such things as upgrading the information-technology and electrical systems, as well as the tanks where fish are kept.

“Fantastic news,” he said. “You take something that’s used as much as the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre is and make it 45 years old, put it in a marine environment where the air is salty, it breaks down.”

University students, high-school students and researchers from around the world use the centre, Anholt said.

They look at a wide range of subjects, he said.

“It’s really very, very broad. We’ve got people working on algae and invasive green crabs and the evolution of sex ratios and why animals are symmetrical and all kinds of diverse things.”

Tuesday’s funding follows a $46-million contribution made last week to ONC by the Canada Foundation for Innovation, money that will come over five years and cover 40 per cent of ONC’s operating funds.

Cassels said all of the recent funding is linked.

“It’s all part of the same vision, which is to make a big contribution around ocean science and climate,” Cassels said.

Cloverdale-Langley City Liberal MP John Aldag, who represented Science Minister Kirsty Duncan at the UVic event, said the money will be put to good use.

“It’s an investment in science,” he said. “It’s all about better understanding.”

He said investing in scientific research leads to good jobs and sustainable economic growth.

jwbell@timescolonist.com

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