dLAB and education: the next big industry

Photo courtesy of dlab.ws A concept drawing of what the dLAB area could look like.
Photo courtesy of dlab.ws
A concept drawing of what the dLAB area could look like. The Whitby campus is on the far left with dLAB West just to the east of it. The extension of Consumers Drive, the proposed GO station and pre-existing buildings are all pictured.

An empty green landscape sits east of Durham College’s Whitby campus and the next few years will see it develop into a place for businesses and students to flourish.

Don Lovisa, president of Durham College, wanted a partnership between the landowners and the educational institute he represented. This partnership, which now includes DC, UOIT, and Trent is known as Durham Learning and Business (dLAB).

About four years ago Lovisa knew the college would be expanding in Whitby and reached out.

“I wanted to know who our neighbours were so I took the opportunity to introduce myself,” says Lovisa. “We’re investing in Durham College, what are your plans?”

The area that will affect the college the most will be known as dLAB West and is owned and being developed by the River Oaks Group. Marvin Green, president of River Oaks Group joined the partnership because he saw a large prospect in partnering with the educational institutions.

“In Durham Region there’s a real need to focus on opportunities to redirect the economy to new areas given there has been a huge change in the economy with General Motors, etcetera, over the years,” says Green. “There were about 40,000 people at General Motors at its hay day and that’s just about the same number of students and faculty at Durham College and UOIT together.”

The purpose of dLAB is to expand while also involving students from the area.

“The whole idea of dLAB is to create links that create opportunities for students to get involved in research and manufacturing, entrepreneurial activities, and in so doing create stable and long-term employment,” says Green.

dLAB also aims to keep the area green as possible without disturbing the natural creeks and land around them.

“This type of vision where you have green space and waterways and walkability, people could have transportation in, they could work there and then they could also work with education. That’s where the connection comes in,” says Lovisa.

According to Green, the town of Whitby is currently working with an engineering firm to connect Consumers Drive to Thornton Road. This will create the main downtown-like area of dLAB West and is aimed for construction in 2017. Green is building his own road, which will run north and south to connect Champlain to the extension of Consumers Drive. Construction on this road will begin in spring of 2015.

According to Lovisa, Metrolinx is also working on bringing the train service across the highway and creating a GO train station near Thornton Road.

In 2016 Green hopes to start construction on ten 50,000 square foot buildings that will populate the area. Each building is intended to employ at least 150 people. The current plan is to have five of the buildings used for retail on the ground floor and the upper levels will be office space.

The retail space will be open to restaurants and other small businesses with no space for big box stores. These stores are meant to increase student life at the Whitby campus.

“The first thing is food and drink and that’s a very important part to student life and especially places for people to gather,” says Green. “The coffee and beer are important.”

The other five buildings will most likely be used for institutions with a focus on academics. One idea in development is to create a new entity known as the Ontario Beverage Institute (OBI). If this institute is created it will be used by craft brewers to perform research and development for beers and ciders and will feature an in-house pub.

Institutions such as the OBI will hopefully incorporate the student learning experience with placement or employment opportunities.

“As we look for these private sector organizations in all these areas we are looking for ones that want to carry forward their business but also be interested in creating those opportunities for students and faculty,” says Chris Gillis, manager, applied research business development for DC.

The Whitby campus is primarily a trade school so the OBI would provide several of the trade programs the chance for hands-on experience.

“What appeals to me is not just the beer part but the automation part of it because those are the kinds of innovation that will then spread to every industry,” says Darrin Caron, dean of Whitby campus.

Depending on what institutes and businesses come to dLAB the Whitby campus is prepared to work with them as a partner. In the past they have worked to train both GM and OPG employees.

“We’re closely tied to economic development. You want a workforce? We can make the workforce. If it’s post secondary we’ll design a program,” says Caron.

The River Oaks Group is also prepared to use one of the ten buildings in development as a residence for the Whitby campus if it is deemed necessary. The college is currently doing research into the need for student housing in Whitby.

The Whitby campus has expanded with the addition of new programs and the Centre for Food over the last few years. The new buildings provided by dLAB will help it continue to grow.

“There’s huge opportunities for our students, for placement, for job opportunities, and for education to link with businesses in the area,” says Lovisa.