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On April 25, 2019, the Centennial College Downsview Campus Centre for Aerospace and Aviation officially opened its doors with a ribbon cutting and public unveiling of the gleaming new $72 million facility.
Housed within the redeveloped heritage buildings constructed by de Havilland of Canada, the new home of Centennial’s expanded aviation and aerospace programs features a new glass façade that overlooks Runway 15-33 at Downsview.
The college’s new four-acre campus represents the first phase of the Downsview Aerospace Innovation and Research Hub (DAIR Hub) that will help train more people to fill the demand for aerospace workers; stimulate development of new technologies; and help fuel the Greater Toronto Area’s manufacturing sector and Canadian aerospace leadership.
DAIR will soon see a consortium of educational institutions such as Ryerson University and the University of Toronto establish training and research facilities in new or other renovated historical structures at Downsview.
The official opening event featured speakers representing Centennial College, Bombardier, and government partners in the project for the ribbon cutting ceremony. Numerous students attended as well, many looking down from the mezzanine above. Tours of the sprawling facility included the two spacious hangars, as well as an overwhelming number of laboratories. On the aviation side, these include a sheet metal lab, airframe assembly lab, two electrical labs, a piston engine lab, a mechanical lab and an avionics lab. On the new technology and manufacturing side, brand new labs focus on computer assisted design (CAD), computer assisted manufacturing (CAM) linked to CNC lathe and milling, composites, non-destructive testing, robotics, an advanced MFC classroom, and of course the new unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) lab for drone studies and flying.
The federal government provided $18.4 million and Ontario chipped in $25.8 million to help build the facility. All three levels of government, including municipal representatives, were on hand to deliver speeches and support the event.
Several donations of advanced aircraft were provided to the college to help populate the new hangar. Ornge, Ontario’s provider of emergency aviation medical services, donated one of its retired Sikorsky S-76 helicopters.
The Canadian Coast Guard donated a recently retired Messerschmitt Bo.105 helicopter.
Fred Cromer, president of Bombardier Commercial Aircraft, spoke about Bombardier’s reliance on Centennial to produce top notch aviation graduates, the company having employed them since 1970.
Bombardier estimates that over 6,200 Centennial graduates have worked for de Havilland and Bombardier over the years. As a tangible show of appreciation, Bombardier donated a retired CRJ200 Regional Jet to the college for airliner training. It is the largest aircraft in the college’s educational fleet.
Cromer welcomed Bombardier’s new neighbour to Downsview. He extolled the virtues of the school, saying, “Centennial’s new facilities and aircraft will allow hands-on experience for students on airline type aircraft, helping to propel students to a higher level of expertise.”
Centennial College’s original aviation program, launched in 1967 when the college was created, is the two-year Aviation Technician program delivered by the School of Transportation. It produces graduates specializing in either Avionics Maintenance or Aircraft Maintenance.
Although the original maintenance program was well equipped, things have improved with the move to a more spacious campus with updated equipment. While the new technology programs received entirely brand-new equipment, the move to Downsview benefited the Aviation Technician program with not only more space, but a huge influx of equipment, engines, parts, and entire aircraft to use as training airframes, many just retired.
A number of these donated aircraft made their final flights to Downsview in the months preceding the official opening of the Centre, including a Cessna 525 Citation II, a twin-engine Cessna 425, two Piper Senecas and four Cessna 172s. Some of these were gifted to the school by H. Bruce MacRitchie, who along with the aircraft also donated aircraft engines, components, equipment and funding totalling over $1 million. To honour this incredible personal donation, a new boardroom overlooking the hangar was dedicated in his name.
The new Aerospace Manufacturing Engineering program will produce two-year technician graduates and three-year technologist graduates.
The new programs at the Centennial Advanced Manufacturing & Automation Technology Centre demand the latest in training technology–and that’s exactly what they got! The list of new equipment at the campus includes five new computer numerical control (CNC) lathes and five-axis CNC mills, a $130,000 3D carbon fibre printer to produce FAA approved grade parts, and a $320,000 dynamic test machine for fatigue testing, amongst many other pieces of equipment.
Centennial’s new composites lab is one of the few college facilities with its own autoclave. The UAV lab has been very well funded, and is equipped with brand new drone technology. It will soon have a large $50,000 Intel Falcon ground mapping drone added to its fleet. There are several companies lined up to partner with Centennial for UAV training.
The Gene Haas Foundation donated US$250,000 to the school on opening day, for the establishment of the Gene Haas Advanced Manufacturing Lab at Centennial. The foundation supports several aviation technical schools across North America.
Centennial College is the seventh-largest college in Canada in terms of applied research, and the new aviation campus will help it develop new research initiatives. Centennial is partnering with industry on two particular DAIR Hub projects: the electric landing gear program and an additive manufacturing program.
The Hub represents additional growth for Centennial in another new facility across the street, where it and a consortium of other schools and companies are in the process of getting established.
The renovated de Havilland Canada heritage buildings now occupied by Centennial College were built starting in 1929. Stones in the sidewalk on Carl Hall Road demark how far east the building evolved in phases from 1929 onwards, until the new facility’s footprint was established in 2017. De Havilland of Canada started producing Tiger Moths in this plant, and Avro Ansons and DH98 Mosquitos for the Second World War effort. Fox Moths were built from the end of the war until 1949, and Grumman S2F Trackers were licence-built for the Royal Canadian Navy between 1956 and 1960.
Of course, the de Havilland Canada series of aircraft was born with the DHC-1 Chipmunk in 1946, followed by the DHC-2 Beaver in 1947, and DHC-3 Otter in 1951. A new de Havilland Canada factory was built at the south end of Downsview in 1953 and would accommodate Caribou, Buffalo, Twin Otter, Dash 7 and Dash 8 production. Bombardier Aerospace took over de Havilland Canada in 1992, and it still makes Q400 turboprops and Global corporate jets in the newer plant.
The new Centennial College Downsview Campus facility has 12,700 square metres (over 137,000 square feet) of floorspace, larger than the original building with the hangar expansion. All but parts of the façade and some interior walls of the building were torn down in the hangar area. A new glass wall above the hangar doors makes the hangar floor a bright working environment, while retaining some of the integrity of the original hangar.
A new, much more efficient green roof has been built over the facility, eliminating the drafty old greenhouse style peaked roof. It will be covered with plants to contribute to the environment. The Centennial College logo on the roof can be read from the sky on approach to Toronto Pearson International Airport’s Runway 24R.
All told, the building maintains some of the feel of the original structure, with a vastly more efficient and improved layout and overhauled infrastructure. The new, bright and airy open hallways modernize the building, and keep its heritage alive with huge black and white historical murals. The Centre’s spacious design provides an array of amenities for students, including open and spacious common areas, a cafeteria, a gym and study rooms.
Centennial’s student population will soon rise meteorically. There are just over 300 full-time aviation students enrolled at Downsview now. This is the same number that was at the old Ashtonbee Campus in Scarborough–the college decided not to add more until the dust had settled from the move into the new facility.
The initial intake of students for the new technology programs was 45 in September 2018 followed by 60 in January. Another 60 are expected in the fall. The new labs are built to accommodate up to 70 students.
The new campus will eventually accommodate just over 1,000 students, approximately 500 each in the aviation and technology sections. Both sides of the Centre are ramping up enrolment for September.
Centennial College’s new aviation facilities are now larger and better equipped, which is appropriate for the best technical aviation school in Canada’s largest city. The school trains students from around the world in a very high-demand field. It is now well positioned to produce up to 1,000 aviation technicians and technologists in a shiny new facility that remains steeped in aeronautical history.