SUCCI Wellness Centre, Minowaadiziiwin Project Brings Alumni Full Circle
The SUCCI Wellness Centre, Minowaadiziiwin project is special for many reasons: its state-of-the-art design, the amount of student involvement to help fund construction, and its name chosen to respect the traditional land it is built on are a few examples.
It’s also interesting to note the number of Confederation College grads from trades programs working on the project. Tom Jones Corporation and FORM Architecture Engineering, who have partnered together on the project, have Confederation College alumni at all levels of their organizations.
“I think when we stopped and looked at the number of grads, it was quite surprising for everyone,” said Parker Jones, Operations Manager at Tom Jones. “There are an unprecedented number of key individuals on this project who have graduated from Confederation College, from the lead designer at FORM Architecture to our Superintendent to almost all the tradespeople.”
It underlines the important role Confederation College plays in training our regional workforce – and how that training can help students find jobs.
“We find that the College grads have a skill, not just an education. They are very quick to translate those skills for the specific projects Tom Jones works on,” said Andrew Campbell, Project Engineer at Tom Jones. “We’ve noticed that their technical foundation is extremely solid, which helps with their success in our company and in the industry in general. From our point of view, Confederation College is preparing students with applicable real-world skills.”
Many students get that experience from Tom Jones itself through Confederation College’s co-op programs; a high percentage of those students end up with a job offer from Tom Jones after graduation. Erwin Kuzmich is one of those Confederation College success stories. He graduated in 1978 from the Architectural Engineering Technology program and started working at Tom Jones even before he got his diploma. Erwin has since traded his drafting table for CAD, but his love of the job continues. A Certified Engineering Technologist with OACETT (earned in 1984), Erwin is now Senior Estimator/Project Manager at Tom Jones.
“It’s quite a fulfilling job. There’s something different every day – different people, different tasks, different challenges.”
Erwin credits Confederation for giving him a firm foundation in all areas of construction – something that still comes in quite handy today.
“The program was incredibly comprehensive,” Erwin said. “It got you into the mechanical, into electrical, into carpentry, structural planning – it taught you the nature of construction. It’s nice to have an insight into what they’re talking about when you’re working on a build with them.”
The Wellness Centre is not his first project back at the College. Erwin was the project manager on the Aviation Centre of Excellence (ACE) building at the airport, which opened in 2003. This time, he’s acting as more of an “internal consultant” to help other team members with accurate costing and material changes on the Wellness Centre project – something he’s become something of a guru for in northwestern Ontario over the years.
“I get lots of calls from architects who say, ‘Hey Erwin – can you put a quick number on this?’ That just comes with experience.”
Colleen Modeland is quick to point out how vital that skill is. She should know – Colleen is in charge of managing the paperwork generated during the whole lifecycle of the project, from proposal writing, permitting and security checks in the beginning, to writing the manuals at the end. She is also the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Associate at Tom Jones, one of the few with this certification in northwestern Ontario.
Her career also started at Confederation College. In fact, Colleen received the very first technology diploma for interior design, and was one of the first designers to start using AutoCAD. Colleen said it was a great way for her to get into the construction industry – especially at a time when women weren’t really in the trades.
“I’ve never met a guy in the field who had a problem with working with women,” Colleen said. Based on her own career experience, she encourages women with an interest to try it. “The College is a great place to start because once you get your diploma, you can go on to get a degree in engineering. You also get experience working in the field and see what it’s like.”
Working on the Wellness Centre project is a homecoming of sorts for Colleen.
“I love going back to the College,” she said. “To see the changes – not just the physical changes, but to see the growth in the programming is very rewarding.”
Colleen said that she likes being part of that growth through her work at Tom Jones, though sometimes those changes are bittersweet. The Wellness Centre for example will be replacing the iconic Bubble.
“I remember coming to Thunder Bay and seeing the Bubble and thinking it was so big – it was so cool. It will be very unusual to not see that,” Colleen said. “But everything has its time. Having seen the drawings and knowing how beautiful the gymnasium is going to be, it’s a good thing.”
As Parker Jones points out, perhaps that’s the most special part of building the Wellness Centre – the fact that for so many Confederation College grads over the years, this project brings them full circle.
“We’re building the future of Confederation College with students from its past,” he said.
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