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From the Principal: on using space wisely

From the Principal: on using space wisely

By Canadian standards, Queen’s is a very old university, its earliest buildings dating to the 19th century and many having been constructed several decades ago. We’ve grown considerably over the past 50 years, and with that growth has come very new construction, including (just ­during my time in the principal’s office) the two new residences opening this fall, the Isabel Bader ­Centre for the Performing Arts and the new ­medical school building.

The recent, award-winning Campus Master Plan suggests that, all in all, we are not desperately short on space, in aggregate. Yet we do face space challenges, first, in the right kind of space: modern classrooms with a flexible design capable of the kind of active learning we would like to see made available to all students; adequate facilities for ­research and innovation; and up-to-date athletic structures and fields (the ARC got us a long way there, and the new Richardson Stadium will improve things further).

Secondly, we have a growing “accumulated deferred maintenance deficit,” meaning that we (in common with nearly all ­publicly assisted universities in Canada) have been hard-pressed to find the resources to do the continuous maintenance, improvements and refurbishments that our buildings require. Of course, we tend to those deficiencies that must be remedied – ones involving building codes and health and safety issues – as a priority.

Other things, however, have been put off. There is a limited (though, fortunately, recently increased) annual budget for deferred maintenance available from the province, although the amount we do spend annually on ­deferred maintenance goes beyond what we receive from the province for this purpose. Government has also provided help in other ways, such as through grants to improve learning facilities (the new rooms in Ellis Hall, for instance, which were funded by a combination of provincial and philanthropic dollars).

[archival photo of the PEC building]
Queen's PEC building, or "the new gymnasium," opened on Union Street in 1931. The old gymnasium was renamed Jackson Hall in the 1970s. Queen's newest facilities, the ARC (Athletics and Recreation Centre) opened in 2009.

Ironically, some of our most problematic buildings are not our oldest ones. In particular, many that were built in the 1960s or ’70s (Jeffery Hall, Mackintosh-Corry Hall, Botterell Hall) have as many problems as those such as Ontario Hall, built over a century ago. Vigilant attention to ­design and construction standards has meant that more recent buildings are in better shape, though they too will eventually need reinvestment.

By contrast, some very old buildings, constructed a long time ago, remain solid, and some are fully capable of being refitted and turned to modern needs. The former Physical Education Centre (PEC) on Union Street is a case in point.

A recent structural assessment of the building by an external consultant found that it is in excellent shape and, if renovated, could provide a considerable amount of additional space – up to 160,000 square feet. Given its size and solidity, the building offers us a welcome solution to two different problems.

  • First, the recent decision to renovate one section of the building for needed facilities for Engineering and Applied Science will help us build that space much more quickly than if we constructed a free-standing new building across Division Street as was originally planned. [See QAR issue 4-2013.]
  • Secondly, using the remainder of the building to support student life and learning in a variety of ways – including an improved health and wellness centre much closer to the heart of campus than the current Health, Counselling and Disability Services home on Stuart Street – will ­allow us to provide better wellness services to our students, and will also free up space in the JDUC for the AMS and SGPS to use as they see fit.

I’ll be writing more in subsequent columns on our buildings and how we can get them ready for the next half century of Queen’s students, faculty and staff. I look forward to your thoughts.

[photo fo Grant Hall]
Grant Hall through summer flowers. (Photo by Charis Ho)


[cover of Queen's Alumni Review 2015 Issue 3]