Algonquin College in the Ottawa Valley christened
A month after settling into its new digs, Algonquin College in the Ottawa Valley's waterfront campus was officially christened Thursday.
Following a number of speeches from dignitaries, a group of students past and present accompanied Algonquin College governor Fred Blackstein outside to christen the building. As Blackstein broke a bottle of champagne on the building, the students watched from beside a 450-pound Voyageur canoe that was placed earlier in the day.
The Pembroke campus first opened its doors in 1968 with 16 students enrolled in night classes, noted Jamie Bramburger, the college's manager of community and student affairs, a far cry from the 900 full-time students now enrolled at the new state-of-the-art Algonquin College in the Ottawa Valley.
Taking part in the ceremony were five graduates, each one representing a decade since the post-secondary institution opened its doors.
They were Dan Cotnam, one of the first graduates of the forestry technician program in 1969 who went onto enjoy a 30-year career with the Ministry of Natural Resources; Pam Duplessis, who graduated in 1976 from the secretarial science executive program and now works for the Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities; Jayne Brophy graduate of the business program in 1982 and current manager of the Pembroke Mall; Dee Colborne, who graduated in 1992 and currently serves as the infection prevention and control practitioner at Miramichi Lodge.
Representing graduates since the year 2000 was Jason Blaine, country music recording artist who wrote and recorded Renaissance Square, the anthem of the new building’s fundraising campaign.
Appearing on a big screen was the Renaissance Square video, created five years ago to show the impact a new college would have on the community, followed by an updated version of Blaine's song. The video of Blaine's award-winning They Don't Make Em Like That Anymore was also include in the presentation as it was shot at Pembroke's waterfront. As the video played, the Algonquin College graduate came out from behind the curtain, guitar in hand and finished off the song to the delight of those gathered.
He was honoured to be part of the official opening and happy it worked into his schedule, since he and his wife and three children now live in Nashville. Despite the miles between Pembroke and Nashville, he has never forgotten his hometown and loves to get back to visit his family whenever possible.
He called the completion of the new campus in the heart of the downtown a huge accomplishment and he was proud to have a small part in the project.
“This is going to be a launch pad of dreams and careers for generations to come,” he said. “It's a beautiful building and a great location.”
For the opening, members of the community, students, staff and faculty, governors, graduates, donors and officials from the Ottawa and Perth campuses gathered in the student commons to celebrate the realization of a dream more than 10 years in the making.
The idea of a new Pembroke campus had been discussed for years, but it was Nov. 10, 2008 when Blackstein made the motion at a board of governor's meeting for a new campus and that motion came full circle as he provided the opening remarks at the ceremony.
He started out with a ‘wow’ and explained that was the reaction of students he recently had an opportunity to tour through the facility.
He credited the board of governors and then president Robert Gillett for the vision and providing the funding from reserves to allow for the continuation and growth of post-secondary education in the Ottawa Valley.
He also thanked the municipal leaders who lobbied for funding and in particular Pembroke Mayor Ed Jacyno and city council for providing what he called a magnificent piece of waterfront property.
At times, when he is visiting the campus, he forgets he is in Pembroke and feels the building rivals those located in Montreal, Ottawa or Toronto.
One group that came on board very early in the fundraising campaign was the Algonquin College Students' Association, which contributed $4 million to the project. Association president David Corson is so impressed with the building he is hoping to relocate the Computer Systems Technician program to Pembroke.
When it became clear the college had outgrown the Pembroke Street East location and students began to make it clear they expected more out of their college, on the wish list was more space in general, more green space and recreation and leisure facilities. After touring the college, he feels all of those areas were met.
“The bar has been set very high and the limitations of the Pembroke Street campus will fade,” Corson said. “It's like we've gone from last to first.”
Dean Karen Davies was overwhelmed by the number of people on hand to help the college celebrate this milestone.
She thanked those who contributed financially to the project because they believed in the idea of the waterfront campus.
“It's been a long road but you hung in there and for that we are grateful,” Davies said.
She thanked all of the people who worked on the structure, inside and out, and those who handled the moves which began last summer, and concluded with the final move over the course of a weekend. While it was stressful and made for long days, it was worth seeing the look on the students' faces on Monday morning.
Providing the closing remarks was college President Dr. Kent MacDonald. He sees the new college as an commitment to the future economy of the area and an investment as it will attract people from across the country and ensure Pembroke and Renfrew County is a place where students want to study.
Public tours begin Dec. 7.
Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist