The view from here

Darren LeClair ‘84 reflects on where we've been, and where we're going

by Glen Herbert

Darren LeClair '84 recently stepped down from the Board of Directors to take a new role, that of Construction and Project Manager. As we begin an extensive facilities renewal, Darren brings an incredible depth and breadth of knowledge, expertise, and experience, including that of having been a student at RLC. He's given back over the years, both of his time and his talent. We spoke with him about his motivation and the years ahead.

As far as Rosseau Lake College is concerned, why do you do what you do?

Darren LeClair: Like a lot of people, I graduated and went off and lived my life. And what brought me back was knowing that some of my peers were so dedicated to the school for years and were incredibly generous to it. I kind of had a bit of a moment where I said, maybe it's my turn to step up a little bit. Understanding how generous they've been with their time. But honestly, I'm just also at a stage in my career where I do have a good skill set and I can contribute to something like this, where I have the time and the flexibility to contribute.

There's nothing but potential I see in Rosseau. And if I can even be a small part of that too, you know, help us realize that potential. In part, I am doing it a bit selfishly I guess because there's a lot of satisfaction in it. I think there's a lot of motivation in it for me.

GH: The result is the motivation.

DL: Yeah, it's exciting. Robert [Carreau] asked me to come and help the school, because they were trying to develop it, and wanted some assistance. And so, I got involved. But then suddenly, several significant challenges were placed upon the school and a lot of people really stepped up at that time. Astoundingly, we are in such a better place than we could have been—than maybe I thought we might have been—at this point. I feel like we're probably in a better place than we ever have been. What if we just push this a little harder? What could we achieve? That's a pretty big motivator, honestly.

GH: There have been moments in the school's history where we've had to come back from some significant challenges. Given the experience of the last two years, maybe this feels like one of those moments.

DL: Yeah, and I did sit by the wayside during a couple of those times. I'm close friends with Dave Allen who served on and Chaired the Board for many years that they had to navigate through these challenges. I wasn't doing anything for the school at that time, and that really weighed heavily. It seems like there's too short a list of these people who gave so much for so long. I just felt it’s time for me to help.

I feel we can be really bullish and to stick our necks out like we might not have before. We've been conservative in the past, likely because we had to be. I think it's time to be a lot more proud and more assertive about what we can do at the school. The market conditions have shifted, and the school’s profile has really changed. I've spent my career in construction and I don’t think I've ever seen a property so underutilized. It is so cliche, but the amount of potential with this piece of property, what we could do, what we could say architecturally with it, and how that would stimulate learning. That part really gets a hold of me a little bit.

GH: I love how you express that, the idea of ‘What we could say architecturally’? What does that look like? What do you think could we say?

DL: Over my career, I don't think enough people did really interesting things architecturally. Not that they didn’t want to but the work was commercially driven. So, it came down to the bottom line, efficiency. I've built some pretty elaborate restaurants, slick corporate head offices, historical restorations, advertising agencies, and they tried some things and had some fairly big budgets. I even built a state-of-the-art prison (not that that has relevance to RLC!), over a couple billion worth in total, but it was never just purely for a stimulating space. To build something at a school on this sort of campus, the product of what you build is part of the education. It sets this tone, and this freedom of thinking. And to do it purely for the reason of stimulating someone's mind, that's pretty fun. I don't think in my career I've been able to be allowed to do that entirely. I think it's the right time in my career to be doing something like this. At the core, RLC, is an outdoor education school and some of the most interesting building plans don’t even involve buildings. Students don’t just do their learning in classrooms. It’s always been that way.

GH: We’ve also been talking a lot about extending the Seven Generations initiative in new ways, making it a physical cornerstone of the school.

DL: It's funny, I just got off the phone with the architect that we worked with for the preliminary design for the STEAM Complex, and we were talking about the new Welcome Center that is proposed to be the school’s gathering point and somehow try and represent RLC’s essence. It raises important questions, like, how do you put reconciliation into a design? And how do you blend that with the architecture of an institution in order to say all the things that this building is going to try and say? The early images reflect the type of structure that the first inhabitants of this area would have built. Ironically, our planning is focused on sustainability and yet this concept was already so well understood centuries before us.

This concept of reconciliation so quickly takes us to the whole idea of, “Well, what are you doing about it?” Like Sarah and Kelly Carrick stepping up and constructively making a difference of their own. It's like, Okay, we can talk about this forever, but if you don't actually do something, you're not going to achieve anything. You're just going to be talking around the problem. I’m not sure how or if we can elicit that with a building, but at the very least it can be bold statement. The programing RLC has been and is instituting can be the difference maker in the way it shapes the character of its students though.

GH: It's an exciting time.

DL: Yeah, it really is. There are changes happening.

GH: And it's not like going from nothing to something. It’s knowing what we have, where we’ve been, and committing to that next step.

DL: Yeah. Definitely. And it's not like we're just talking about something we're going to do. We've actually been doing it. For example, the Robert Carreau Memorial Trail. There's tragedy in the motivation for it, but then we just pulled it together, as a community, and we built it. And the work we did this past summer. We didn't spend a ton of money, but we made an enormous impact. People walk in here and go, Wow! This and the infrastructure work we’ve been doing is all preparation for the next era of campus development, which is starting to unfold in the next year and will continue over the next ten to fifteen years.

GH: People see the work, but they also see the motivation and the potential.

DL: And that there are multiple things happening. I think that that's something that must be the real theme for us going forward.

GH: That it’s all happening.

DL: Yeah. You know, we got together in that barn at Kelly’s in Uxbridge and people put their hands up to contribute to the relaunched sailing program. And in the spring when the ice breaks up, there's going to be boats in the water and people sailing them.

We must do that every time. And it's kind of a buzz to help something happen. To be part of a success story. Everybody wants to be part of that, right?

GH: Yes. We do.