Marconi Part I: On the Waterfront

It’s taken over a year — I first requested a copy of the Ekistics Plan+Design report on the relocation of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) Marconi Campus to downtown Sydney in April 2019 — and it ultimately required a FOIPOP to dislodge it and the censors have had a heyday with it, but last week, I finally received the document that weighs four possible sites for the downtown campus:

NSCC Marconi Relocation Report Cover

NSCC Marconi Relocation Report Cover

If the image on the cover is unfamiliar to you, that’s because you’ve probably never seen it before — it’s Option 3 of the four options presented, and although Ekistics liked it enough to put it on the cover of the report, it wasn’t the location ultimately chosen by the Department of Labour and Advanced Education (LAE) for the actual campus.

I’m going to attach the full report for your reading pleasure — it’s 258 pages long, but don’t worry, so much of the technical and costing information has been redacted, it reads much shorter. For those of you who don’t have time to wade through even the redacted version, I’m also going to summarize it all (as best I can, given the extent of that redacted information).

But first, a word on the report in general. The Marconi Campus is a significant development, not just because it will be so expensive (the province estimates the cost of design and development — including site preparation and land acquisition — at about $18 million) but because it will occupy prime space in downtown Sydney. So it’s a little disappointing when a firm like Ekistics (or Fathom, as it’s now known), which has already completed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of publicly funded studies for the CBRM (including a plan for the entire Sydney waterfront) and another for the Sydney downtown), gets stuff wrong. Like “Forbes Street” for Forbes Court and “Kings Street” for Kings Road and “Sydney Town Hall” for the Civic Centre, the seat of government for the entire regional municipality, not just the former city of Sydney (which didn’t have a “Town Hall” because it was, you know, a city).

I know such errors are not the end of the world, but they’re jarring, as are all the typos and grammatical mistakes, in a $144,586 report by consultants who purport to know what’s best for your municipality. To underline how jarring, I’m going to quote the report as written throughout this piece, using “sic” liberally, in a passive aggressive show of annoyance.


‘Intensive consultation’

In 2018, Ekistics, along with its “partner team” of Educational Consulting Services Corp (ECS), John Jozsa and Altus Group, won the contract to produce the report on relocating the Marconi Campus to downtown Sydney.

Recognizing that a “critical component to the success of any ambition [sic] project like the relocation of the Marconi Campus is the participation, involvement, and buy in from the local community,” they began with a “targeted consultation” phase during which they:

…met with over 8 groups of people comprised of approximately 40 different individuals — AOCA, Private Career Colleges, CB Partnership, CBU, Island Sandbox, CBRM, Sydney Waterfront District Regeneration Committee, Innovacorp.

On May 16, the community was invited to the “Sydney Town Hall” for an open house and workshop:

Approximately 40 people attended the meeting with a diverse cross section of gender and age.

The Ekistics report includes a photograph taken at this (public) workshop, but the censors at LAE decided sharing it would constitute an “unreasonable invasion of personal privacy,” so the photo in the copy of the report I received looks like a group of people in the witness protection program met to discuss the Marconi relocation:

Photo from redacted Ekistics report.

In addition to the 40 people who attended the workshop, another 751 responded to an online survey — “an impressive showing” according to Ekistics, although taken together, workshop attendees and survey respondents constitute 0.8% of CBRM’s population.

Ekistics also met with two people from Mi’Kmaw Kina’matnewey — identified as [REDACTED] and [REDACTED] — and the board of NSCC — which gave them “license to be visionary.”

These meetings seem to have been spit-ball sessions where everyone talked about what they’d like to see in a new campus and where they’d like to see it — although 30% of survey respondents took the opportunity to say they didn’t see why the campus was being relocated in the first place.



Of course, you can’t plan the relocation of a college campus solely on the basis of hopes and dreams:

In the early stages of the planning and evaluation process for the relocation of the Marconi Campus it was deemed prudent to develop an understanding of how much building space and what types of building space, might be required to house NSCC in Sydney’s downtown core.

(I’m less impressed they deemed this “prudent” than that they were apparently prepared, at least initially, to plan and evaluate the relocation process without any notion of how much space was required.)

This is where ECS comes in — the report dedicates an entire chapter to the consultant’s space requirement calculations, which take enrollment assumptions like these:

Marconi Campus Enrolment Assumptions

Marconi Campus Enrolment Assumptions (Ekistics report on campus relocation)


And turn them into space requirement estimates like these:

Estimated instructional space, Ekistics Report on NSCC Marconi Relocation

Estimated instructional space, Ekistics Report on NSCC Marconi Relocation

Those explanatory codes refer to information that has been redacted because it is advice to a minister — 14(1) — and information “disclosure of which would result in the premature disclosure of a proposal or project” — 17(1)(d).

Given the design and location for the Marconi have been selected, I am not sure what “proposal or project” remains to be prematurely disclosed. But the report contains a number of redactions related to discussion of an “expanded” downtown Marconi Campus. In Chapter 5 (“Regional Impact Identification & Risk and Mitigation Strategies”), there is a section titled “Impacts Associated with an Expanded Downtown Marconi Campus” that looks like this:

Impacts associated with Expanded DT Marconi Campus

Impacts associated with Expanded DT Marconi Campus

There is a suggestion that more staff might need to be hired and that the number of students frequenting Sydney’s downtown core could vary between 1,300 (2017-18 enrollment at Marconi) and 1,700 — a figure given without explanation and perhaps by accident, given elsewhere the report states: “Scenario 2: Downtown Campus Accommodates [REDACTED] Students.” (Mind you, it also states: “Scenario 2 sees the number of persons attending Marconi rising from the current [REDACTED]” when the current enrollment had already been disclosed.)

I don’t know what the campus may grow to accommodate, but if I were the NSCC’s Strait Area Campus in Port Hawkesbury, home to the Nautical Institute, I’d be a little uncomfortable reading passages like this:

NSCC has no other campus in Nova Scotia with an oceanfront access.


The [Mercers] site benefits from its relationship to the harbour which could be instrumental in developing future marine based programs like small craft repair, fibreglass boat making and repair, marine engine repair, marine logistics, and other nautical related programs.



Ekistics eventually boiled its interviews and estimates down into a set of lot selection criteria:

Site Criteria Marconi RelocationSite Criteria Marconi RelocationSite Criteria Marconi Relocation

I want to zero in, briefly, on two of these criteria.



Parking and traffic congestion were raised as a concern by 51% of the people who responded to the relocation survey. (Ekistics notes that this is partially offset by the fact that 41% of respondents were not worried about parking and traffic congestion. I keep reading that sentence to figure out if it actually makes sense, and I’m still not sure.)

Seeing the numbers stated so starkly makes me realize in a way I hadn’t before how serious the parking question will be — where, exactly, is this satellite, 6-acre, 500-space parking lot going to be located? Apparently the model is the NSCC Ivany Campus in Dartmouth, which has 300 spaces adjacent to the campus and 300 “about 1km away.” Says Ekistics:

A shuttle runs every 15 minutes in peak hours and by all accounts seems to work well.

More to the point, will students use it? Ekistics admits they may not, given the free parking available elsewhere in the downtown and North End, before directing readers to the “parking” section of its Downtown Sydney redevelopment report for thoughts on upping our parking game.

Most of the information in the “potential parking lot locations” section of the relocation report has been redacted on the grounds that it is advice to a minister and that revealing it could lead to the premature disclosure of a proposal or project.

Given construction is underway on the Marconi waterfront campus, I can’t see how disclosing the plan for parking could be considered “premature,” but the government clearly feels the time is not yet right — or else, it does not yet have a plan to disclose.


Old vs New

There’s one other item in that list of lot-selection criteria I’d like to address: the requirement that the selected site involve as few active businesses and landowners as possible.

On the one hand, this makes sense — uprooting active businesses in the name of downtown regeneration seems counterproductive. But on the other hand, a certain amount of disruption is inevitable if you are moving into a developed downtown.

It’s instructive, I think, to look at the three examples Ekistics cites of college campuses being used to revitalize downtowns. In all three cases, the projects involved rehabilitating existing buildings, as well as new construction:


Wilfrid-Laurier University Dowtown Campus, Brantford, Ontario

“Wilfrid-Laurier’s Brantford Campus expansion has included both the re-use of existing buildings and new construction. All of the faculties were designed to integrate into existing downtown fabric. The first project, completed in 1999, successfully re-purposed an historic Carnegie Library in partnership with the City. Laurier has continued to expand the Brantford Campus and now occupies twenty-one buildings in the downtown.”

The accompanying illustration shows a campus very much integrated into Brantford’s downtown:

Wilfred Laurier University - Brantford Campus


Red River College, Exchange Campus, Winnipeg

The first project for the Red River College Exchange Campus involved rehabilitating the Roblin Building, a 210,000 square foot existing structure covering a full city block in Winnipeg’s down-at-heel Exchange District.

“The development is primarily new construction, successfully incorporating the facades and some interior spaces of five prominent heritage buildings on Princess Street and a 1905 warehouse on William Avenue.”

Likewise, the campus was well integrated in the downtown, to the point where: “No parking was developed on-site, recognizing proximity to on-street and adjacent municipal and private parking facilities and available transit…”

Red River College, Exchange Campus, W


University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Oshawa

“The UOIT Faculty of Education was relocated into a renovated existing downtown building in 2010. The following year the Faulty [sic] of Social Sciences and Humanities moved into a redeveloped Eaton’s factory building that was formerly vacant.

“The UOIT Downtown Campus now includes five buildings including the refurbished Regent Theatre which is used as a lecture hall during the week and is open for community performances on the weekends.”

UOIT Oshua Campus map


Take note of that mention of the Regent Theatre, it will come up again later in our discussion.

Okay, enough preamble, it’s time to look at the proposals Ekistics evaluated for the Marconi.

This calls for a Part II…

Note: The full report is too large to upload to my website, so I’ve uploaded it to Dropbox. You can access it by clicking here