May 11, 2011

Mount Allison University Fine and Performing Arts Centre Plans Released

Mount Allison University President Robert Campbell has released the University's plans for a new Fine and Performing Arts Centre and wrote a joint letter with the Chair of the Board of Regents Bruce McCubbin to Alumni and friends of the school. I believe, as I have earlier written, that the fundamental issues of replacing the former, currently unused Memorial Library have long been settled. The remaining steps are now to fundraise the necessary funds and to integrate community feedback into the final product.

I have absolute faith that this is the best decision for the University to take to remain viable in the long-run and to continue to attract and retain among the best fine and performing arts students in the country. I may write more specifically about the specifics about this issue on soon-to-be-released newly designed Argosy website as I am the paper's first Online Editor, but for now I will provide you with information provided to the school community including the virtual tour which I've transfered into a more shareable format for your convenience.


Friday April 8, 2011

Dear Alumni and friends,

The Mount Allison experience is renowned for being unique, creative, and world class. This reflects our enduring commitment to institutional excellence and quality in our people, programs, and campus facilities. We want to provide students and faculty with dynamic teaching, research, and creative spaces so that they can explore and reach their potential.

As part of its ongoing commitment to the Arts, the University has identified that our next major campus priority will be a Fine and Performing Arts Centre.

Fine and Performing Arts have long played a large role at Mount Allison. Today 40 per cent of students from outside of these disciplines take a course from one of these areas and each year hundreds participate in the many student productions that occur on campus. This facet is one of the ways in which the University is distinct and it is a powerful draw for our community.

There is broad support on campus and in our community for this project, and we have initiated plans to pursue this with vigour. This project promises an exciting future for students, faculty, and the extended Mount Allison and local community. However, the plan to proceed with the Centre’s construction on the site of the currently unused former Memorial Library has generated some concern. We appreciate all the feedback that we have received — supportive and otherwise. This engagement on an important issue reflects the spirit of a community that wants the best for our University.

There have been three broad areas of concern: architecture and heritage; finances; and the memorial aspect of the building. Allow us this opportunity to provide context and clarification on each.

We are proud of Mount Allison’s record of commitment to preserving its patrimony. Over the last two decades, the University has invested significantly in its objective of a campus development approach of renewing and reusing its existing buildings. In the past two years alone, we have devoted tens of millions to the maintenance and renewal of our facilities. As a result, we enjoy the presence of many fine buildings that contribute to the signature look of our campus: Centennial Hall; the Flemington Building; the Wallace McCain Student Centre; Colville House; the Bennett Building; the Owens Art Gallery; the “Anchorage;” and the “Black House.”

That Mount Allison enjoys one of the most widely-renowned and beautiful campuses in Canada is the result of this continuing stewardship. This has been no small or easy task, as we have some 40 buildings to care for, all of which require regular upgrades and maintenance. Indeed, the present value of the ‘deferred maintenance’ of our academic campus facilities is between $80 and $120 million. As a result, the reality is that we cannot always afford to renew and reuse each building in every situation. Such is the case with the former Memorial Library.

The building has been inaccurately described as one of the campus’s oldest and few remaining heritage properties. The building does not have heritage designation and — as those familiar with the University will know — more than a quarter of our buildings are older.

The building’s condition is such that it requires major repairs. However, it has been suggested that the University has made an error in evaluating the building’s structural integrity and suitability of layout. Our decision was guided by specialist expertise from qualified professionals who brought knowledge of current codes, standards, and procedures to the assessment of the project. Their conclusion was clear: it would not be prudent to retain this building and to adapt it to be part of the new Centre. Even in the face of this recommendation, the University sought to determine what it would take to secure the building for this purpose. In comparison to the cost of constructing a new building ($30 million), the University estimated that using the existing building would result in an additional $5-million cost.

As we approach the culmination of the successful JUMP Mount Allison campaign — to which the community has just contributed more than $84 million — the prospect of raising an additional $5 million (beyond the $30-million cost of a new building) is unrealistic. Even if additional funds could be raised, there are many other campus and program priorities in need of support. The Board is still considering approval of the financing of a $30 million project; but it is not likely that it would approve a $35 million project.

This financial reality raised the prospect of having to finance the extra $5-million costs by drawing on the tuition of future students. This scenario is simply not acceptable. Trusteeship is at the core of the responsibility of the Board of Regents and the University Administration. It is our duty to fiscally balance our traditions and heritage with the needs of the present and aspirations of the future.

Finally, it has been argued that the building should be retained because one of its purposes was to honour the memories of Mount Allison students who died in the Great War. This purpose had been perpetuated through memorial plaques that were located inside the building, as well as through an annual reading of their names during our special Remembrance Day ceremony.

These memorial plaques have been given increased vitality by being relocated in a far more visible and prominent position that reflects their original intention. Located on the ground floor atrium of the Wallace McCain Student Centre, the plaques are now visible to all who frequent the Student Centre. They remain home to our long-held tradition of an annual Remembrance

Day service that sees students, faculty, and staff gather together to pay homage to those who made the ultimate sacrifice. As in every year since 1927, the names of each of the fallen are read aloud.

Preliminary drawings for the proposed Fine and Performing Arts Centre will be available in April. The architects have been challenged to design a facility that will foster excellent teaching, learning, and creative pursuit, while having a look and feel that will both fit into and enhance the campus. This design will see the traditional Mount Allison rose-coloured stone as well as contain some significant representation and memory of the former Memorial Library. We look forward to hearing your feedback on the drawings when they become available.

This is an exciting project for Mount Allison and we are not surprised that it has elicited such interested, committed, and at times emotional responses. We have appreciated hearing this response and reflecting on it as we have proceeded with the development of the project. If you would like to share your thoughts with us, please send them to

Thank you for your continuing interest in and ongoing support of Mount Allison.


Dr. Robert M. Campbell
President and Vice-Chancellor
Mount Allison University

Bruce McCubbin
Chair, Board of Regents
Mount Allison University

   Drawings for Mount Allison University’s Fine and Performing Arts Centre are now available to the public. With a slim profile and clad in the University’s traditional rose-coloured sandstone, the $30-million Centre has been designed to create a stunning new presence at the north-west edge of campus. The plans, developed by Toronto firm Zeidler Partnership Architects, call for more than 50,000 square feet of new construction with specialized facilities for teaching, performance, and creative pursuits. [See virtual tour]

Photo of the Main Street view of the Fine and Performing Arts Centre.  Click to enlarge. The main entrance facing Main Street. On the right is the 100-seat theatre; on the left is the Fine Arts facility; lower right features proposal for terraced gardens.   
"The new Centre provides striking visual impact as you approach the campus along Main Street and will energize the fine and performing arts programs at Mount Allison,” says Robert Campbell, President and Vice-Chancellor.

"Architects have designed the Centre’s exterior with an “echo” of the former  University Centre/Memorial Library which will be removed to make room for the new  structure. Their proposal shows the entrance to the building preserved and incorporated into  an amphitheatre to be located at the heart of the quadrangle formed by  Centennial Hall, Flemington, The Bennett Building, and the new Centre.”

Photo of Outdoor amphitheatre featuring the old entrance to the former Student Centre/Memorial . Quote graphic: The feature has tremendous potential to bring the community together for all kinds of events,” says Hans vanderLeest, Dean of Arts. “It is a very unique feature that invites people to meet and collaborate in a creative manner, while paying homage to our past.
Proposal for outdoor amphitheatre featuring the old entrance to  the former University Centre/Memorial Library. The terraced seating would use stone  from the existing building and be built into the hill that slopes up to  Centennial Hall.
"The Arts occupy a very important place at Mount Allison," says Campbell. "Each year hundreds of students in other disciplines take a course in Fine or Performing Arts. In doing so, they explore and discover new dimensions of themselves. This design represents an exciting new dimension to the Mount A experience because it creates a nexus for the next generation of creative integration."
Photo of the Fine Arts student faculty right wing and the instruction studio on the left.
View from the Avard-Dixon Building. On the right is the Fine Arts student, faculty, and staff wing. The left wing features the Fine Arts instruction/studio.       
The plan is based on the recommendations of a committee of University members who worked with the architecture firm to develop a program study detailing the needs and space requirements for the departments. With mostly sandstone and glass exterior, the result is a unique design featuring a set of three interconnected buildings that meet a range of academic needs; from specialized studios to classrooms, from a 100-seat performance venue to office and seminar spaces. 

"We are delighted with the result,” says Thaddeus Holownia, Fine Arts department head. “The architects have come up with a design that mixes function and form in a very elegant way. The new building features plenty of natural light and a wide-open feeling. I’m excited to see us get on with the next phase of the project."
Photo of Salem Street entrance. The Fine Arts instruction/studio block is on the right; and the theatre is on the left. Quote graphic:The Centre’s well-thought out plans offer the drama program the space and structure we need,” says program director Glen Nichols. “The design presents us with a dynamic and creative environment where our student and faculty can explore their potential to a far greater degree than is currently possible.
Salem Street entrance. The Fine Arts instruction/studio block is on the right; and the theatre is on the left.      
With extensive experience in evaluations and renovations involving older properties and having done work for a number of universities including Ryerson, McMaster, and Guelph, as well as numerous performing arts centres and venues, Zeidler was the perfect fit for the project. Respecting the past while addressing the needs of a contemporary university was something the artchitects considered throughout the project.
"It is critical that we provide space that meets the needs of users," says Zeidler Senior Partner Tarek El-Khatib, the project’s principal architect. “Providing for modern facilities that will serve the University community well for years to come is no easy task. And we also know that we also had to be respectful of the past and campus look."
Photo of View of main entrance and proposed terraced gardens from intersection of Main and Salem Streets.
View of main entrance and proposed terraced gardens from intersection of Main and Salem Streets.      
To  ensure that the Centre has a minimal carbon footprint, close attention is being  paid to the building’s major utilities. "We know that significant savings can  be gained from investment in green technologies," says El-Khatib. "This year the University anticipates savings of close to $1 million through green initiatives it has undertaken. We have followed this very ‘Mount Allison’ philosophy for the new  Centre and will continue to work on achieving further sustainability measures  during detailing."
The Fine and Performing Arts Centre will be located at a spot that is the gateway to campus for anyone coming into town. "The design takes full advantage of this fact with a dramatic fa├žade facing Main Street. And with the amphitheatre, the quad will be transformed from a place where people currently only traverse, to a place to be,” says Campbell.

The project has also garnered support from within the Town.
Photo of view of the front of the building and main entrance from the Main Street crosswalk between Windsor Hall and Avard-Dixon. Quote graphic:The amphitheatre and performance venue inside the new Centre reflects the ongoing integration that Mount Allison has with the Town of Sackville,” says Mayor Pat Estabrooks. “When I look at the plans I see real potential for the Centre to be a place that contributes to the cultural and intellectual needs of our region for many years to come.
View of the front of the building and main entrance from the Main Street crosswalk between Windsor Hall and Avard-Dixon.      

The University is currently gathering feedback on the drawings which will also go to the Board of Regents for review and comment. It is anticipated that construction on the Centre will begin in 2012 after site plan and detailed designs are finalized. The Centre’s opening date is tentatively scheduled for fall 2014.
Birds-eye view of the Fine and Performing Arts building.
Birds-eye view of the building looking towards the intersection of Salem and Main Streets. Nestled in the quad to the left of the Centre is the proposed amphitheatre.

Fund raising has begun for the new Centre and donors are excited by and supportive of the vision and plan for the new building. The University continues to seek additional donors to support key components of the project. If you would like more information on how to make a gift, contact Michael Cantwell, Executive Director of Campaign at 506-364-2259.

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