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Blaine Nicholls: Project management and the McEwen School of Architecture

Blaine Nicholls cropped

Blaine Nicholls is a retired Sudbury architect who played a key role in establishing the McEwen School of Architecture at Laurentian University.

The idea for the school was first proposed by Laurentian University Economics professor David Robinson and his daughter, Kirsten, an engineering student at the University of Waterloo, in 2005, but it was Blaine Nicholls who chaired the steering committee charged with making it happen.

The idea began to gain momentum in February 2007 when Rick Holtenby, the Director of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture was invited to Sudbury to speak about the potential for a school of architecture in Sudbury.

In this video, Blaine stresses the importance of project management to realize economic development opportunities like a school of architecture.

“Pursuing a project like this was very much like what I had been doing for 30 years of my professional practice. That’s where my expertise lay,” he tells us. “If we were going to pursue this and really try to make a go of it, I wanted it to be done properly with a good planning approach.”

From 2007 to 2013, when the school accepted its first cohort of students, Blaine filled 11 diaries to keep track of the project, meticulously anticipating project milestones, hurdles that had to be overcome, people who had to be brought onside and all the necessary steps to move the project forward.

Anyone can come up with an idea but translating it into reality takes project management skills.

Blaine also stresses the importance of the easily understood business case analysis authored by David Robinson that persuaded the City of Sudbury to buy into the proposal with a $10 million commitment.

Following the example of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, which relocated to downtown Cambridge, the Sudbury steering committee proposed a downtown location to revitalize the city’s urban core through an influx of students, faculty and staff that would stimulate new business, boost property values and increase the city’s tax base.