Iconic WIDC ready for business

The Wood Innovation and Design Centre is officially open. Some interior finishing is still underway but the six-story, ultra-modern, academic/commercial tower is now ready for business in downtown Prince George. It was promised by the provincial government as far back as 2008, the plans took a bumpy and controversial path to ground-breaking in April, 2013, but officials applauded the completed efforts on Friday - on time and on budget.

"This is an iconic building," said Minister of Jobs, Tourism and Skills Training / Labour Shirley Bond, who, with fellow MLAs Pat Bell and Mike Morris, did the political work within government to make the dream a reality.

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"We might take it for granted - watching it go up day by day - but it is so much more than a building," Bond said. "It is a vision of collaboration and working together as a province in the heart of the province."

The 29.5-metre structure required the partnership of 13 B.C. companies and 250 personnel. Its tenants will be UNBC on the first three floors, a temporary Canada Winter Games contract as the base of all media operations during this winter's extravaganza, and talks underway with undisclosed stakeholders to permanently let out the upper three floors. According to Shared Services BC staffers, the price to rent is $31 per square foot, all in (taxes, utilities, etc.).

The parts of the building that are already spoken for are getting ready for the task of seeing this building full of wood innovations and raising it exponentially. It will house specialty courses dedicated to advancing the engineering and utilization of wood as a construction material. Friday was the first day on UNBC's payroll for senior lab instructor Maik Gehloff. He talked about how world-leading robotics and pressure-testing tools would be some of the assets in the ground-floor laboratory. Yet "some things have to be learned by hand" so the facility would be both high-tech and grassroots in its approach to creating the construction industry of the future.

As for the people who used present technologies to accomplish this facility - one of the tallest all-wood towers in North America - Bond said "you did a phenomenal job and we are proud of you" on the design and construction team.

"We try to inspire, do our best to lead and innovate, and with this building B.C. is leading the way," said UNBC president Daniel Weeks. "And we will lead the way in teaching our graduates how to use this material even better, using this building as inspiration."

Weeks confirmed that "just last week, the UNBC senate approved courses in areas such as

structural and sustainable design, wood science, and wood processing that will comprise our master of engineering in integrated wood design. We can now see that the programming offered in the WIDC will be as inspiring, practical and innovative as the building itself."

Mayor Shari Green has been watching the building grow, step by step, from her line of sight to her office in City Hall. Since she is stepping down as mayor later this month, cutting the ribbon on the WIDC building was her last major act in municipal government. She said she could still remember the day the city announced it had purchased the site of the PG Hotel in order to revitalize downtown Prince George.

"We didn't know then this site would used for the Wood Innovation and Design Centre, the city owns other downtown properties that were considered, but it was a unanimous decision [at the council table] that this is where it should be housed. It was the right decision."

There is some solace to those who recognized the historical value in the old wooden hotel, and wanted it saved but in vain due to flood damage, that the building put back on its footprint is also an all-wooden structure that will likely be preserved for all time as a functional tribute to the history of the city's relationship to the forest.

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