A number of recent articles in the Varsity have raised awareness about the imminent construction of the Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building, which is heavily funded by the private sector. This new teaching and research building will allow the Faculty of Pharmacy to accommodate its numerous undergraduate and graduate students more comfortably on the northwest corner of University Avenue and College Street.
Trouble is, an historic structure already occupies that site—the old Department of Botany Greenhouses.
While I view corporate encroachment on this campus and its potential threat to academic freedom with the same trepidation as Varsity contributor Julie Mollins, another relevant issue she discusses is the impending destruction of the greenhouses.
Since the Department of Botany is busy constructing modern greenhouses on top of the Earth Sciences Centre, the old greenhouses will be demolished to make way for the new pharmacy building. While some plants from the old greenhouses will be moved to the new greenhouses, other rare and exotic species may be lost because they will not survive in the new locale.
The university has offered to save the College St. section of the old greenhouses—but only if it is moved from its current location. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that all the vulnerable plants in the College St. section will be able to adapt to a new environment. Moreover, no person or organization has stepped forward to pay for the relocation of this extraordinary botanical collection.
If it is not too late in the architectural planning stages, the university should consider creatively integrating the remnants of the old greenhouses (and its plants) into the design of the new pharmacy building.
In the spirit of compromise, the traditional history of botany study (in the form of living, respiring flora) could be preserved and wouldn’t be entirely out of place in a contemporary pharmacy building.
There are precedents for such ideas. On this very campus, concerned advocates successfully lobbied the administration to preserve a portion of the 44 St. George Street building which served as the previous home of this newspaper. Presently, the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, the future hub of cutting-edge technology education, is being built around the old Varsity house, thus demonstrating respect for the latter building’s historical significance.
Similarly, when the Air Canada Centre was built, the ancient facade of the old Canada Post building was adroitly incorporated into the stadium’s inner walls, creating a clever juxtaposition of Toronto’s past and present.
Last month, the university launched its 175th anniversary celebrations and released old photographs illustrating the rich history of the school. Many elegant buildings from the nineteenth century are still with us today.
However, if the university proceeds too rapidly with redevelopment, another 175 years from now, the campus may tragically lose all connections with its past.
It is noteworthy that the university has approved plans to revamp the look of the campus by, ironically, planting more trees on Front Campus, as well as adding a pond and more “green space” at Hart House Circle.
If the administration espouses a neo-environmental ideology, surely they can find a way to maintain the dignity of the old greenhouses.
A “great university” is not great simply because of its commitment to future research, education and “great minds,” but also from its respect for the great things and great symbols of the past.