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Massive $190M retrofit of UofT labs is underway


Toronto, ON – In what University of Toronto president Meric Gertler called “an historic investment in Canadian science and innovation,” the federal and provincial governments are joining with the University of Toronto to provide almost $190 million to upgrade nearly half of U of T’s research labs over the next two years.

The massive Lab Innovation for Toronto (LIFT) project is being supported with $91.8 million from the university, with $83.7 million and $14.3 million from the federal and provincial governments, respectively, for a total of $189.8 million.

“These investments will us attract and retain talent from around the world and across the country. It’s really critical,” said Gertler. “We’re very well known as a research powerhouse but…if the [lab research] space is substandard it limits what this talent and faculty and student body can do. By modernizing that space the sky is really the limit.”

The LIFT project will lead to the renewal of 47 percent of U of T’s research space, said Scott Mabury, vice-president operations. The labs to be renovated by the project are on average 50 years old and comprise more than 50,000 square metres of inefficient space, he said. Work has already begun and will be complete by the spring of 2018.

Using a square metre as a prop at the event, he gave the appreciative crowd an impromptu lesson in what the scale of the infrastructure project really means. If you add the current inefficient lab space up, he said, it’s equivalent in total size to 15 soccer pitches. And, if U of T was building all-new labs instead of rejuvenating existing facilities, the total cost per square metre would be approximately $12,000, totaling close to $650 million.

“The renovations will modernize U of T’s research labs to increase usable space and enhance the quality of the research and learning environment,” said Mabury. “They will also improve air handling, climate and electrical systems.”

The LIFT project will affect all three of the university’s campuses and nine academic divisions. The facilities to be renovated include not only medical, dental, biology, chemistry and engineering labs, but also include a former horse barn north of Toronto now used for ecological research, a green roof on the historic 1 Spadina Avenue building (the new home of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design), an electro-acoustic music studio at the Faculty of Music and many others. For example, at the University of Toronto Scarborough, the campus vivarium and the S-Wing research labs will undergo $17.8 million in renovations, while the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Davis Building will get a $17.1 million upgrade.

In total, 546 labs will be fully renovated, providing state-of-the-art research facilities to an estimated 1,100 researchers and 5,500 students.

Mario Ostrowski is one of those researchers. A renowned HIV scientist affiliated with St. Michael’s Hospital and U of T’s Faculty of Medicine, Ostrowski says there is fierce competition among research institutions for the best graduate students and post-docs. State-of-the-art labs will help U of T recruit the best and the brightest students, he said, and will also inspire existing researchers and students to greater achievements.

“Just like great architecture inspires people every day to achieve excellence, if you’ve got a nice lab that’s state of the art, rather than something old and decrepit that’s falling apart, it inspires and stimulates people to produce excellence,” he said.