An invaluable contribution to economic development.
Growing up, Blaine Nicholls knew he wanted to do something creative with his life.
"I have always been interested in the creative arts, but I also had an interest in construction and engineering," says the retired architect.
After retiring from the prestigious architectural firm Nicholls Yallowega Belanger, he took on a new challenge. As Laurentian University School of Architecture steering committee chair, a volunteer position, Nicholls has made an invaluable contribution to economic development.
Nicholls is applauded by community leaders as one of the most influential and driving forces behind the success in establishing a school of architecture, the first new Canadian school in almost 40 years and the only bilingual one outside of Quebec.
"There was a real interest on my part to get more involved in the community," he says, "and at that time (2007), the idea for the School of Architecture had just been put on the table by (Laurentian University professor) David Robinson. I thought it fit perfectly with what I was interested in doing."
He was intrigued by the idea of an architecture school that focused on what is unique about Northern Ontario and creating positive change here.
It's estimated that once the school is built, it will house 400 students in a bachelor's program, and then a master's degree program.
The construction phase is expected to create 300 jobs. Robinson, an economist, predicts the school will result in an additional $15 million in annual spending with a present value of $20 million increased municipal tax revenue.
At the same time, the creative energy of the students and their professors cannot be underestimated in its ability to strengthen the city's creative class. Social scientist Richard Florida identifies the creative class as a key driving force for economic development of post-industrial cities.
The decision to locate the new school downtown is expected to help revitalize the city's core.
"The economic impact of having 400 students and faculty is going to have a major revitalizing effect on the downtown," says Nicholls.
Plans call for the enrolment of the first class in 2013. The school will set up temporary classrooms in the Market Square building until the permanent building can be completed in 2015. The well-known Canadian firm of Levitt Goodman Architects has been chosen to design the downtown campus, which is estimated to cost $35 million.
"Everyone involved understands that Blaine, with his experience in project management, his meticulous approach, his quiet, strong leadership and diplomacy, was key to getting the school for this city," says Robinson.