Second public meeting raises concerns over proposed Innovation Institute

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A second public meeting on the subject of the Bruce County Archives expansion, in coordination with the proposed Ontario Nuclear Innovation Institute, was held on Thursday, July 5th at the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre in Southampton with approximately 60 people in attendance.

Fielding Questions (L) Bruce County CAO Kelly Coulter, Bruce Power’s V-P Nuclear Oversight and Regulatory Affairs Frank Saunders, Matt Meade Corporate Research Analyst County of Bruce and Cathy McGirr Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre Executive Director

Bruce County recently purchased 254 High Street from St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Southampton and is considering two options:  a potential expansion of the Museum’s Archive Department and the addition of the Ontario Nuclear Innovation Institute.

Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre Director, Cathy McGirr explains the conceptual design for expansion

As part of the public consultation process, ‘Neighbourhood drop-in sessions’ were held on June 12 and July 5th to inform the public and to get feedback from residents.

“In 2016, Bruce County and Bruce Power formed a partnership of economic development to bring more suppliers that support the Bruce Power in its refurbishment and to create more opportunity to diverse the economy,” said CAO Kelly Coulter.

Bruce County CAO Kelly Coulter

She pointed out that in one and a half years approximately 30 suppliers have come to the municipalities in the area creating an energy cluster along the lakeshore (Lake Huron).  “Most counties are envious that we have the suppliers that we do who have taken up permanent space.  In May, we announced the renewal of the partnership between the County and Bruce Power.  Today, we continue the dialogue but nothing is set in stone.”

Coulter also explained that the Archives requires 19,000 sq. ft.

Frank Saunders, Bruce Power’s V-P Nuclear Oversight and Regulatory Affairs who is Chair of the new Oversight Committee. explained that the main focus of the Institute would include:

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cyber security
  • Medical and industrial Isotope research
  • Health & environmental excellence in the Lake Huron and Georgian Bay areas
  • Indigenous economic development
  • Nuclear sector operational excellence
Frank Saunders

It would also include a Skilled Trades and Training Secretariat made up of industry leaders to coordinate and increase employment in the skilled trades to sustain a regional labour force.

In addition, the Institute would help for engage youth in the area on technologies and opportunities in technical fields and specialty trades.

The Oversight Committee will solicit expertise from key partners and both domestic and international organizations to develop an international centre of excellence for research and training.

“We would like to see this Institute located in Southampton,” said Saunders, “and feel that the location adjacent to the Museum is the right one given that they are both institutes of learning, although that decision is not yet firm.”

“Since the first meeting on June 12,” said Saunders, “we’ve had a lot of people ask ‘why this location of choice?’  Firstly, it allows us to continue to collaborate with the Museum.  We have many partnerships with the Museum that also allows us to pursue our history and work with the Saugeen First Nation and Nawash Unceded First Nation.  It also provides a space for the best intellectual capital within our boards and for our youth to have exposure to that intellect and to guide them to take advantage of that.”

Several in the audience raised concerns about the location and what they thought was the proposed size of the development. 

Cathy McGirr, Director of the Bruce County Museum explained that the Institute could possibly be connected physically to the Museum’s expansion and perhaps partner on spaces such as classrooms and/or gallery.  “Nothing has been decided as yet,” said McGirr.  “Everything is in the very early stages of discussion.”

McGirr also pointed out that the expansion of the Archives is not in jeopardy.  “We (Museum) are a cultural and community hub that has a relationship with the Blue Water School Board and the adjacent G. C. Huston Public School and runs programs at the educational level with 4,600 students annually participating at the Museum.”

She also added that, since 2005, there have been come 305,000 visitors to the Museum and, that over 10 years there have been dramatic changes and the need for community space is growing.  “We have seen a 164 per cent increase in rentals since last year.  The Archives expansion is very important in moving forward into the future as we are running out of space and, to preserve historic items, we need the proper storage space.  Also, we are seeing more people using the research room on an on-going basis.

Frank Saunders also added that over the next 40 years there are going to be a “… lot of changes in technology”. 

Frank Saunders and Mayor Mike Smith

“With global warming and the proximity to the Lake (Huron), we need to understand how the natural environment is changing.  We will need skilled people, people in the trades and ongoing Indigenous developments.  This new Innovation Institute will not be a physical place for jobs.  It will be a place for collaboration and IT infrastructure and will have limited offices with areas designed so that people can work together as a team on innovation ideas and post-graduate opportunities to encourage young people to take part.”

Saunders said that the entire project is “just in the early development stage.”  He stressed that that the intention in moving forward is to be in consultation with businesses, educational institutions, organizations. “Hopefully, by September or October of this year, we will have a plan.  We want it to be an open place with access to Fairy Lake and plans would be to enhance the area even more.  The natural landscape is appealing for a research and development concept where people can gather to reflect rather than in a high-density traffic location.  This will be an academic institute and not a massive structure but there is no budget, other than it is separate and will be not be funded from the ‘public purse’ and the design has not be determined.”

Saunders said that the entire project is in the early stages.  “We will do the studies but, not matter what, there will be positive and negative feedback but we will continue to share ideas.”

The land in question ultimately now belongs to the County and the Institute would have a lease.  Although the focus would be on nuclear, it would also include working with Indigenous peoples, studies of the Lakes and environment, high-tech artificial intelligence studies and cyber security among others.

At the end of the meeting, someone in the audience stood up and said, “Let me see … we have G. C. Huston Public School, an institute of learning; we have the Museum, an institute of learning’ now, we are proposing a world-class Innovation Institute of learning.  I would say, this is … a win, win, win situation.”