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UTSC, UTM campus councils oversee large construction projects in 2021

Governing board meetings also address student mental health
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A computer assisted design render of the completed Instructional Centre 2. COURTESY OF CEBRA ARCHITECTURE AND ZAS ARCHITECTS
A computer assisted design render of the completed Instructional Centre 2. COURTESY OF CEBRA ARCHITECTURE AND ZAS ARCHITECTS

The UTM and UTSC campus councils convened on January 26 and January 27, respectively, for their third meetings of the 2020–2021 academic year. While the UTM Campus Council provided updates on capital projects that are already under construction, the UTSC Campus Council entertained a proposal from the Project Planning Committee for a new classroom, academic, and administrative building.

Both meetings also touched on supporting student mental health in the wake of pandemic-induced distancing.

Both campus councils oversee the general operation of their respective U of T satellite campuses, governing academic, student, and business affairs on behalf of the university’s overarching Governing Council.

Instructional Centre 2 to be built at UTSC

The Instructional Centre project started in 2008 as a plan to expand classroom space at UTSC. Since then, only half of the construction has been successfully completed, and Instructional Centre 1 currently houses UTSC’s departments of management, computer and mathematical sciences, and cooperative learning.

Construction is finally slated to begin on the second half of the project — Instructional Centre 2 (IC-2) — in 2021. The new building will be located between the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre and the Environmental Science and Chemistry Building, and is scheduled to move to occupancy in August 2023.

“The intent of this project is to really create a hub on the north campus that addresses some of our classroom shortfalls,” said Andrew Arifuzzaman, Chief Administrative Officer of UTSC, during the UTSC Campus Council meeting. “That creates a place for students [to] come together… We really want to create a centre that provides a bit of a front door, [a] welcoming environment for the campus.”

IC-2 will house 24 new classrooms, the Department of Computer and Mathematical Sciences, the Academic Advising & Career Centre, AccessAbility Services, the Health & Wellness Centre, and the Office of Student Experience & Wellbeing. 

“One of the continuing issues on the campus… [is] trying to find where our various services are located because they’re all in different places,” said Desmond Pouyat, Dean of Student Experience & Wellbeing at UTSC, during the meeting. “So the IC-2 building, with all the classrooms there, is going to really allow us then to establish a student services hub that has all of our core services.”

Pouyat also added that the construction of IC-2 would resolve a problem with space shortage for staff.

The IC-2 plan was approved unanimously by the UTSC Campus Council and will now be tabled by the Academic Board for approval. 

Renovations, ongoing capital projects at UTM

While construction moves ahead at UTSC, COVID-19 and last minute residency cancellations have had a huge impact on renovation plans at the UTM.

“We shifted our capital plan and had very little [spending],” said Saher Fazilat, Chief Administrative Officer of UTM, during the UTM Campus Council meeting. “We had some big plans to renovate residences; we have plans to change our kitchen equipment, but we’ve kind of ‘lived and survived’ that and [deferred] it to the next year.”

Fazilat elaborated that only preventive maintenance will take place during the 2020–2021 academic year, but that next year, UTM plans to renovate one of the residences that was built in the 1970s.

While renovations are on hold, planning goes ahead for UTM’s proposed Arts, Culture, and Technology (ACT) Building, which will eventually house UTM’s departments of Indigenous studies, computer science, visual art, and robotics.

Announced in December, UTM is currently consulting with the City of Mississauga on the early stages of ACT’s construction, and a conceptual architectural design is currently in the works. Consultations with Indigenous leaders are also ongoing, as ACT is planned to have a dedicated Indigenous space.

Mental health on agenda at both meetings

During the UTM Campus Council meeting, Professor Alexandra Gillespie, Vice-President and Principal of UTM, declared one of her top priorities to be student mental health.

She plans to host a mental health retreat with a selection of students, faculty, staff, and librarians to promote dialogue about U of T’s Mental Health Framework and “consider an action plan that enables our diverse communities to thrive.”

“This retreat will not be designed to solve all of our problems at once, but rather designed to begin a necessary conversation,” Gillespie said.

UTSC’s Pouyat also highlighted some additional challenges that the pandemic has brought upon students, including the absence of normal social engagement. “We are aware of this, and we are doubling down on the mental health front in all ways that we know how,” he said.

Pouyat mentioned that he recently had a meeting with staff and the Mental Health Advisory Committee — which is composed of students — who he credited with having “wonderful ideas.” “We’re trying to do all we can to be attentive to the needs of our student community,” he said.

The UTM Campus Council and UTSC Campus Council will next meet on March 9 and March 10, respectively.