February 20, 2011

Opposition to Mount Allison's plan to replace the Memorial Library leads to Administration's Response

While it's a habit not to discuss rumour and popular opinion regarding goings on at Mount Allison here I feel I must again comment on the controversy surrounding the planned demolition of the old student centre.

First, however, I must make a few remarks about why writing things about which you are uninformed is a bad idea.

Jumping to conclusions and making assumptions is something Danielle Webb did when she said that the Mount Allison faculty was going to strike. She wrote that the union voting to reject the conciliation report, by only a 55%, "shows division within the union that may be difficult to overcome." Actually 55% isn't a large majority, especially when not all the faculty members voted. She declared that the vote represented a "margin of victory" for MAFA and that it would irritate the university's bargaining team" who "were quick to accept the board’s report and end the debate on Feb. 1". One side agreeing to something doesn't "end the debate"...as MAFA's rejection of the report proved.

She claimed points of contention were money and trust. She accepted as fact MAFA's press release, saying it "showed that part-time faculty are almost entirely ignored in the report". Showed, not argued. Maybe this sort of one sided garbage will get her a job at the CBC.

Both sides want different things so they argue to get as close to what they want on paper. Written contracts are necessary because of an inherent lack of trust.

In addition, trust isn't something that is negotiated. MAFA didn't appreciate having a conciliation board because it delayed when the union would be in a position to legally strike. This would have been obvious if she looked at any other releases by the school or MAFA. Oh wait she didn't get those because she's reporting without doing any research.

Even people who had been in contact with the administration and MAFA didn't know what was going to happen. So that's just one example of why you shouldn't go making assumptions and predictions when you're not very well informed. That's why I refrained from posting the rumours spreading of an inevitable strike, or taking either side's argument as fact, as she did, and posting it here. I generally don't write about controversial issues here about which I'm not well informed.

However, because of the massive amount of articles and opinion pieces in the Argosy, the Times & Transcript, herenb, the CBC, and on webpages, a facebook group, an online petition and at least two blogs I feel as though I'd be remiss in writing about what's happening at Mount Allison if I didn't mention that there has been some growing controversy since I first mentioned the University was in the planning stages of demolishing the Memorial Library and replacing it with a new Fine and Performing Arts Centre. The Library was turned into a Student Centre in 1970 but since the opening of the Wallace McCain Student Centre, it is mostly unused. I should note the addition to the old Memorial Library, Windsor theatre, is used for practices and auditions throughout the year.) The plan was first offered back in July 2010, but has only in the last few months been met with any vocal opposition.

I don't think I would be inaccurate in saying the vast majority of those opposing the replacement of the old library are older alumni who attended Mount Allison before 1970 when the building was transformed into a student centre as almost all of the letters refer to the old student centre as a it was originally built, as a Memorial to those who died in WWI and because all of the letters I have read so far have been from Alumni who graduated before 1970.

While there has been no real outcry against about the plans here at Mount Allison, the University decided to hold an information session about the its plan. Carly Levy wrote a piece in the Argosy (finally available online) summarizing the events of the meetings and the arguments of the administration in favour of replacing the building.

I've been able to attempt to boil down the various messages from the school and the opposition to a few the main arguments in favor and against replacing the old Student Centre.

Against

1. It is a Memorial to those those who died in WWI.
2. It is a piece of art and the look and feel of the campus would be diminished without it.
3. There technically isn't structural fatigue in the building
4. The details behind the estimated costs have not been fully explained

For

1. The memorial plaques created in honour of the war dead have been moved to the new Student Centre which is used by many more students and appropriately serves to honour the memory of those who died.
2. The new building will incorporate aspects of the old and will be made to with the existing architecture
3. The building in its current form is unsuitable for the physical requirements of the planned performing arts centre.
4. Repurposing the building would cost five million dollars more than demolishing it and starting from scratch.
5. The school cannot fundraise the extra funds and would be forced to increase tuition for future students

The article from the Argosy is included below. Below that you will find a note from Director of Alumni Relations Carolle de Ste-Croix (’90) to University Alumni regarding the school's plan's and the defense of them.

yourthoughts@mta.ca.

Also, feel free to post any thoughts below but keep them respectful or I will simply delete them as I have in the past.


Information on Memorial Library finally accessible to students

Submitted by Carly Levy on January 27, 2011 –No Comment

VP Administration David Stewart addressing students at the recent information session on the Memorial Library.
An information session was held Monday for students interested in learning more about the recent decision to replace the Memorial Library building with an entirely new building that would house a Fine and Performing Arts Centre.
The information session featured a presentation by Mount Allison Vice-President Administration David Stewart followed by an open forum moderated by SAC President Sam Gregg-Wallace. The session gave students a chance to ask the administration questions that are important to them.
After giving a brief introduction to the history of Mt. A’s buildings, Stewart described the four stage process of renovating several academic buildings on campus outlined in the Facilities Master Plan created in 2001. Currently the university is moving into stage four of the process: converting the Memorial Library, the former student centre, into a new Fine and Performing Arts Centre.
In early fall, the administration released the results of an assessment by Zeidler Partnership Architects which determined that it would be imprudent to use the building in its current state. Mt. A’s internal project managers then assessed the feasibility of retaining the building keeping in mind the requirements of the Fine Arts department and Windsor Theatre.
After taking into consideration specific requirements such as sufficient head room in studios and the load bearing capabilities of the building, the report found an additional five million dollars would be required to convert the present building into a space sufficient for the new Fine and Performing Arts Centre.
These findings were presented to the Board of Regents at a meeting in early October. Stewart elaborated that a clear consensus was reached among the representatives present at the meeting that the building should be replaced by a new building. “It’s not a lack of commitment to our buildings,” said Stewart, who cited the main reason for this decision as the extra cost, which would have to be recuperated by a hike in tuition fees.
Stewart broke the five million dollar expenditure down, explaining that the money would have to come from the university operating budget which is comprised of fixed government grants and student tuition.  “We’re not going to be able to fundraise the extra money, it’s not going to come from the donors,” explained Stewart.
He referred to the Wallace-McCain Student Centre conversion project to explain his reasoning behind this statement. “We made a special appeal for funds for alumnus during the construction of the student centre,” said Stewart who went on to say that an additional twenty thousand of a project estimated at 17.5 million dollars were raised.
Fourth year student Alex MacDonald raised the point that the five million dollars extra to retain the current building would only mean an increase in tuition of approximately 150 dollars per student, to which Stewart contrasted the point that the five million could also pay for two new full-time faculty members indefinitely.
MacDonald also asked Stewart why the project couldn’t be put off until further down the road, giving the university more time to raise the necessary funds. The answer to this concern comes back to the students. Stewart points out that the centralization of the Fine Arts Department and renovation of  Hart Hall, which holds photography and print making facilities and is in a desperate state of disrepair,  will be contingent on the completion of a Fine and Performing Arts Centre.
Several students raised concerns about the decision to replace the building. It was questioned whether or not the Fine and Performing Arts Centre could be built at another site and the Memorial Library building be used for something else. Stewart explained that there is no real space to build another building and that there is no use for that building currently, claiming, “We have too much square footage as it is,” said Stewart.
In a recent letter to the editor in The Argosy, Professor Emeritus Ronald Boorne noted that the university had not made the report by Zeidler Partnership public, and this was also questioned on Monday. Stewart stated that the university has several thousand documents and contracts and that it would be inappropriate to open up internal documents – especially one that offers advice to the university – for public debate.
Fourth year student John Brannen raised concerns over the fact that the building itself is a memorial to Allisonians who lost their lives in war. Stewart was adamant that the memories of the fallen students will be retained, and insisted, “We are very respectful of those who died in the war and who came from Mt. A.” He pointed out that moving the commemorative plaques from the Memorial Library to the more highly frequented Wallace McCain Student Centre would make more sense instead of being inside an unused building.
Finally some students wondered if the new building would stay true to the look and feel of the campus. Second year student Paras Satija remarked the red sandstone fa├žade of the current Memorial Library is a critical element that deserves to be retained. Stewart reiterated that it is a goal of the administration and Zeidler Partnership to incorporate echoes of the old building and elements of other Mt. A buildings into the new design.
Satija, who came to the information session with the goal of finding out more information prior to forming an opinion on the decisions surrounding the building, feels satisfied with the presentation by Stewart.  He thinks that as long as we commemorate the soldiers the building was meant for there’s no point arguing about it. “You do what you have to do, and I don’t think what we are doing is necessarily disrespectful,” said Satija.
Kevin Geiger, a fourth year student, came to the presentation because he wanted to make sure enough information was available for students and because he is interested in budgeting for large scale projects. Geiger thought that Stewart did a good job presenting all the information and especially enjoyed hearing the history of renovations on campus. “Students should take advantage of David Stewart opening his door for questions and concerns, there is enough information out there for students to be able to form an opinion,” he said.
While there has not been a vote finalizing the destruction of the building, the board has approved the expense of creating a design for the new building to be completed in approximately eighteen months. Stewart confirmed that there will be conceptual drawings available for viewing by the Mt. A community to give feedback and comments, with another Board of Regents meeting scheduled for March.  Stewart assured the students that there already has been discussion surrounding the use of certain structural elements such as the entrance to the Memorial Library and including them in the new designs.



Alumni Office: Information regarding the former University Centre/Memorial Library
Posted on Friday, January 14 @ 02:05:00 AST by admin


At its May 2010 meeting Mount Allison’s Board of Regents confirmed that the next major building project on campus would be a Fine and Performing Arts Centre. This is an exciting project for Mount Allison and for the community, and reflects the University’s long-standing commitment to the fine and performing arts.



Last fall, the Board authorized expenditures to begin the process of developing specific, architectural drawings. This step required a decision on whether an existing structure (the former University Centre, known prior to 1970 as the Memorial Library) could be used to house the new Fine and Performing Arts Centre. Based on expert advice, we estimated that retaining the existing structure would add approximately $5 million to the project’s cost. The Board therefore accepted the recommendation that architects prepare drawings and plans that did not include the existing structure but would include some of its features.

Given our loyal and engaged community's deep attachment to Mount Allison’s history, this decision has naturally generated discussion, reaction, and even controversy. This decision was taken after a thorough, conscientious, and reflective review of all options, and with a view to balancing the inheritance of the past, with the immediate pressures of the present, and the needs of the future. The University believes that the plans for the new Fine and Performing Arts Centre reflect what are in the best interests of Mount Allison University as a whole. This letter is meant to share the University’s perspective and to address some of the concerns that have been expressed.

As you are well aware, Mount Allison enjoys one of the most beautiful and distinguished campuses in Canada, and it is a campus that has evolved over the decades. Balancing our financial capacity with student and faculty expectations to provide state-of-the-art facilities in older buildings is not easy. But a tour of the University’s campus will demonstrate that it is a commitment that Mount Allison has been successful in pursuing. In all cases where it is contemplating renovations or initiating a new project, the University reviews its buildings on their own merits. If they can be used effectively and it makes financial and operational sense to use them, they are restored. But, if not, the University makes an informed decision to build new.

Each year the University spends a significant amount of money on the upkeep and improvement of its campus and buildings (historical and otherwise): $10 million in 2009, $9 million in 2010. In recent years, the University has restored the Wallace McCain Student Centre, Colville House, and the Bennett Building. We are currently initiating or have concluded major restorations at the Owens Art Gallery, Canada’s oldest university gallery; the “Anchorage,” a 120-year old home now being used as a student residence; and the historic Queen Anne Revival-style building, the “Black House.”

We recognize that buildings hold fond memories for some people, but the University’s ultimate mission and budget has to be focused on educating students and delivering the best possible program for them in top-notch facilities. It has a responsibility to ensure that faculty and students have access to safe, appropriate, effective, and sustainable facilities – now and in the future.

In preparation for the new Fine and Performing Arts Centre, a building assessment was carried out with the assistance of a number of specialist firms. Reports were prepared by two architectural firms, two engineering firms, and other experts on the state of the former University Centre building. The ultimate recommendation of these reports was that it would be imprudent to retain this building:

The challenges to modify the existing structure, to incorporate new building services, and to bring the structural framing up to current codes … will prevent it from being used to house programs such as wood work shops or metal shops where heavy equipment will be carried. In the main supporting beams, a lack of headroom for the building’s purpose, and mechanical and electrical systems that would need to be completely replaced.

Of course, we often look to our supporters to help finance major projects. At an estimated $30 million cost, the project will require $20 million in private donations (a challenge in itself) and $10 million from the University’s operating budget. Some have suggested that the extra $5 million (on top of $20 million) could easily be raised, but our experience in fund raising tells us that this would not be realistic, especially as we near the end of a major fund raising campaign where our most ardent supporters have already made financial commitments. To access the extra $5 million would require taking on long-term debt that would ultimately result in tuition increases for students or reduction in the quality of other programs and services.

There has been some concern expressed over the design of the new building, which has yet to be determined, finalized or approved. The University’s approach has always been to mix the best features of Mount Allison’s past with the new and innovative design, in an intimate, high-quality environment. From campus to curriculum, from facilities to programming, and from students to professors, this approach has proven beneficial and will be so again with the Fine and Performing Arts Centre. The University has a solid record of architectural renewal, so you can rest assured that features of the old building will be found in the new one and that the new building will respect and fit the campus surroundings.

We expect to have preliminary drawings of the new Centre later in the year, and we look forward to the feedback that will be provided when they are announced. If you would like to share your thoughts with us, we would be happy to receive them at yourthoughts@mta.ca.

Best regards,

Carolle de Ste-Croix (’90)
Director of Alumni Relations

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