Bringing the classroom to Bolivia: how engineering students bridged a community

Engineers in Action complete humanitarian civil engineering project in Lipez

Bringing the classroom to Bolivia: how engineering students bridged a community

A pedestrian footbridge, which was built by the U of T and the Western University chapters of Engineers in Action (EIA), offers a promising future of enhanced transportation during rainy seasons to Bolivians in the Cochabamba district.

The team constructed the Lipez Pedestrian Bridge across the Convento river over May and June. Flooding from November to April usually makes the river uncrossable, posing a dangerous situation for nearby residents that the EIA teams sought to solve.

Improving an entire community’s access to schools, markets, agricultural lands, and hospitals, the Lipez Pedestrian Bridge is as much an engineering feat as it is a cultural phenomenon for locals in Lipez and surrounding areas. The multi-dimensional project will prevent an estimated two to three injuries per year from unsafe crossings.

Stemming from a tradition initiated by the group’s parent organization, Bridges to Prosperity, the project has a clear mission: to empower rural communities while acknowledging that geographic isolation serves as a significant barrier to economic and social development. In short, the group envisions “a world where a lack of adequate infrastructure does not contribute to global poverty.”

A myriad of subdivisions and roles — including but not limited to fundraising, design, project management, construction, media, and safety — all contributed to create a lasting infrastructural staple in the Lipez community that is intended to serve its people for years to come.

The team, consisting largely of engineering students, worked tirelessly against a demanding timeline and persisted in the face of numerous challenges and setbacks. Despite material delivery delays and even a change in site location, the engineers constructed the bridge within six weeks, following a year of technical preparation.

The projects’ impact

The impact of the project was two-fold: not only was the project beneficial for the Bolivians, but it was also an immensely positive learning opportunity for the students. Three engineers with first-hand experience with the project shared their involvements and opinions in an interview with The Varsity

“It was such a memorable experience being able to see this bridge come to life,” said Cultural Relations Manager Michelle Leon, a second-year civil engineering student, reflecting back on the months of hard work. U of T EIA Co-President Saffa Ramsoomair, a third-year civil engineering student, added that, “Being a part of this team has taught me so much… we’re using our skills as engineers to actually make a difference.”

It’s not difficult to understand how working in a foreign country to improve infrastructure and, ultimately, the quality of life can alter a person’s worldview and bolster their adaptability.

“Physically going to Bolivia and building a bridge really changes your perspective,” said U of T EIA External Relations Manager Luna Amador, a second-year civil engineering student. “You come back and you feel like you are a different person.”

The future of EIA

Moving onward and upward, the team is now embarking on the organization’s most ambitious bridge project. A joint project with three other institutions around the world — University College London, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, and Iowa State University — the bridge will be the largest that the team has ever built, and is expected to be situated in another region of Bolivia.

The team of student engineers and industry professionals will continue to invest their time and skills in rural communities, bridging previously unsurpassable barriers of all shapes and sizes.

Robarts Library expansion underway

Five-storey project aims to add 1,200 study spots

Robarts Library expansion underway

Construction has been underway for the Robarts Common, the expansion of Robarts Library that is expected to add 1,200 study spots to one of the largest buildings on campus.

The five-storey project aims to add more study spaces to the library, which will raise the number of spots in Robarts to 6,000. In addition, as part of the Robarts renewal initiative, the entire building will have wireless printing.  

Though the Robarts Common will be accessible from floors two to five inside Robarts, it will differ aesthetically from the main building, as its design features a glass exterior allowing in more natural light.

A fundraising campaign for the project attracted donations from more than 1,000 individual donors.

Construction on the project began in the summer of 2017. A steel structure is currently being constructed on the north side of the library, where work will continue for a month before a similar structure is built on the south side. The library has not undergone any major projects since 1973, when construction on the building ended.

The expansion is projected to be completed this fall. The new space is planned to officially open in 2020, but a more specific date has not been set yet.

As most construction will take place outside of Robarts, no study spaces will close and there will be minimal disruption during construction.

U of T proposing new building near Faculty of Law, Music

Building to be constructed on the site of McLaughlin Planetarium, will house School of Cities

U of T proposing new building near Faculty of Law, Music

U of T is proposing to build a new nine-storey building on the site of the now-closed McLaughlin Planetarium in front of the Faculty of Music.

The proposed building at 90 Queen’s Park will become the new permanent home to the School of Cities, an interdisciplinary research hub focused on solving urban problems. The building will be designed to hold classrooms and public spaces, as well as a music recital hall, event hall, public plaza, and space for the Royal Ontario Museum next door.

There will also be facilities for the departments of History, Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, Islamic Studies, and Archaeology, as well as the Faculty of Music and the Faculty of Law, which are located nearby.

Pending further approval, construction will commence in June 2020, and the goal is for the project to be completed by spring 2023.

The music recital hall is one of the proposed building’s showpieces, as it is planned to have a large south-facing window showing the Toronto skyline as a backdrop.

The site is currently home to the McLaughlin Planetarium, which closed in 1995. The land was bought from the Royal Ontario Museum by the University of Toronto in 2009. Plans to replace it were first announced in 2016, prompting an ongoing campaign to preserve the planetarium.

In an email to The Varsity, Chief of University Planning, Design and Construction Gilbert Delgado wrote, “The new building at 90 Queen’s Park includes an 250-seat recital hall that can be used for student performances, and will draw talented artists to play at the university.”

Delgado added that student representatives were involved during the development of this project’s program and other key features. “All our major project designs are shared with the community through our Community Liaison Committee, which has student representation. As the project progresses, there will be more opportunities to hear from the public, including students,” Delgado continued.

Third-year music student Ricci Ebron told The Varsity that she would prefer if there were more practice rooms, as the faculty is lacking in this regard. She also wrote that the building could use an underpass to connect to the music faculty, which would make it easier to move large instruments from classrooms to the recital hall.

Delgado said that there are plans to build an interior walkway between the new building and the Edward Johnson Building, which is home to the Faculty of Music. 

The building has also been criticized by some students online for being ugly and failing to blend in with its surrounding environment.

Matteen Victory, a first-year law student, said that the building “invokes no sense of awe, no sense of wonder, no sense of culture, heritage, or craft.”

“The vandals behind this project have allowed empty function to replace artful form, and would see the campus marred by an awful postmodern tumour metastasizing out into the street, looming over the historical Philosopher’s Walk,” Victory wrote.

Mike Liu, a second-year music student, told The Varsity that he hopes to see the building dedicated to providing more practice rooms.

“While a new concert hall is great and the building seems that it will have a positive impact on the University, as a music student there are two things that are more important,” he wrote.

“If the university can get enough funding for a new concert hall, why can’t we get more practice rooms and more importantly, music stands? It seems we have complained about the lack of space and stands forever and yet the university never improves the situation.”

The building will be 43 metres tall and around 6,780 square metres. Plans also include incorporating the 118-year-old Falconer Hall, which is part of the Faculty of Law, into the design of the new building.

The building is being designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, an architecture firm behind New York’s High Line and Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art.

New buildings in the works at UTM

Plans not finalized for location, full purpose of proposed Robotics Building, Arts & Culture building

New buildings in the works at UTM

UTM plans to build up to three new academic buildings over the next four years, as a part of the implementation of its five-year Academic Plan that it introduced last year.

This year, the campus plans to finalize designs for both a Science Building and a Robotics Building, as well as initiate discussions to possibly construct an Arts & Culture Building. Though construction is slated to start soon, there are very few details about the location or full purpose of the Robotics Building and the Arts & Culture Building.

According to UTM’s Implementation Plan — an evolving document that details the steps that the administration is taking to achieve the Academic Plan — construction of the Science Building is scheduled to begin sometime in the next two years and finish around 2021.

The Science Building will be located between the Davis Building and the Terrence Donnelly Health Sciences Complex. It will consist of roughly 7,134 net assignable square metres spread over four floors, with a mechanical penthouse on the fifth floor.

There are also proposals to include a High Performance Computing Data Centre, as well as laboratories and offices, to satisfy the laboratory needs of research facilities at UTM and to accommodate the activities of UTM’s Centre for Medicinal Chemistry, which was launched in 2016 to develop drugs targeting cancer and other diseases.

The Forensic Science program, which is currently located in the Health Sciences Complex, as well as Campus Shipping & Receiving, which is currently located in the William G. Davis Building, are also slated for relocation to the Science Building.

With a budget exceeding $20 million, construction of the Science Building will be funded by a combination of sources, including UTM Capital Reserves and Long-term Borrowing, along with donations and funding. There will also be possible fund-matching from the Provost.

Robotics Building

Construction of the Robotics Building is slated to begin this academic year for an expected opening sometime between 2020 and 2021. However, it is yet to be determined where or why construction will occur.

“[The Robotics Building will be] much like a technical garage for working on autonomous vehicles,” explained Professor Ulrich Krull, Principal of UTM and Vice-President of the University of Toronto, over email.

“This is not intended to be a significant academic building and will be a work shop, likely located near the Paleomagnetism Lab on Principal’s Road,” though Krull added that this was not confirmed.

At the UTM Campus Council meeting on October 3, Krull announced that UTM had already hired three staff members for the Robotics Department.

“The initial robotics faculty members will join their Computer Science colleagues in Deerfield Hall,” wrote Krull.

Arts & Culture Building

The fate of the Arts & Culture Building remains unknown.

“For Robotics and Arts and Culture, there are no decisions about where the construction will happen, and no decisions about the purpose of the buildings,” wrote Krull.

“The Arts and Culture Building is a placeholder for a project that might take place after the science building is completed, and the science building will not be fully complete before 2022.”

Krull added that discussions are in progress, and that any issues must first be considered by a project planning committee before any plans can be finalized for construction to begin.

“UTM has not even assembled these committees as yet,” said Krull. “When there is a consensus it will be possible to move to the project planning stage to lay out firm plans.”

Ongoing construction continues to place stress on campus operations. So far, construction is in progress for an unnamed new building, to finish the new North Building, and to renovate the Davis Building.

A roundup of construction at UTSC

Modern Highland Hall to reopen in stages, feature new student study spaces

A roundup of construction at UTSC

The school year has arrived with some construction at UTSC still in progress. Currently, two projects with a focus on accessibility for students are underway.

UTSC Media Relations Officer Don Campbell provided some insight to the newest addition.

Highland Hall is designed in a way to really serve the needs of our students by enhancing the teaching and learning environment at UTSC. It will add student study spaces, modern classrooms, a new café, and plenty of places for students to just sit, relax and hang out,” he said in an email.

The building will face Military Trail and will be one of the first things people see when they arrive on campus.

“In many ways it will be an exciting new gateway to our campus,” Campbell said.

Highland Hall will include unique and modern architectural features that UTSC “can’t wait to unveil.”

Here’s the breakdown of what is to come at UTSC:

Highland Hall

Expected Completion: mid-November

This 134,216-square-foot, five-storey building underwent construction to add 175 new student study spaces, a student commons space, administrative offices for the social sciences department, one lecture hall with 230 seats, two classrooms with 25 seats each, one classroom with 34 seats, and graduate teaching labs on the second to fifth floors.

Both the interior and exterior of the hall’s athletic centre have undergone renovation to become a multipurpose space. It will now also hold events, conferences, and exams.

Highland Hall opened its doors on Monday, September 10 for only lectures and tutorials situated in the lower-level classrooms, lecture halls, and washrooms found at HL001, HL006, HL008, and HL010.

Unfortunately, the rest of the building remains under construction. The building will reopen in stages.

Carrel desks and lounge furniture will be ready in the Student Commons by late October. Hall’s café, which will offer sandwiches, pastries, and specialty coffee, is expected to open in late October as well.

Accessibility Path

Expected Completion: Unknown

A new accessible path will run through Scarborough’s Highland Creek Valley and connect the campus upstairs to the wilderness down below.

The trail is expected to be 500 metres long, with a slope of no more than a five per cent grade. This will allow better access for those who use mobility devices.

This path has been designed to meet the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

A roundup of construction, renovations at UTM

Several buildings remain under construction at UTM as the campus welcomes its largest ever first-year cohort

A roundup of construction, renovations at UTM

A higher population brings higher demands: more study areas, a wider range of food outlets, and additional teaching spaces are needed. This, in turn, leads to new buildings and renovations.

1. The North Building

Expected Completion: late September

The original North Building was demolished in 2015. The new six-storey building will have rooftop gardens for those interested in nature, over 500 extra study spaces for students, and technologically-advanced classrooms for teachers and learners alike. There will also be numerous charging ports, 390 lockers, and a six-storey atrium space ideal for socializing, working, eating, or just relaxing. The building will also incorporate special glass designed to deter bird strikes.

Furthermore, a resourceful rainwater reuse system will supply water for irrigation and other uses aimed at decreasing waste and energy expenditure.

The building will also add large stalls and change tables to washrooms and add both single and all-gender washrooms.

The new North Building will house the Centre for South Asian Civilizations and various other departments, with some professors already beginning the transition, and is also set to be a specific space for digital humanities research.

2. Unnamed new building

Expected Completion: Spring 2019

The currently untitled building is expected to be a two-storey glass and steel structure.

It will become part of the student pedestrian walkway that extends across campus from the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre and past the CCT Building and Student Centre.

In addition to hosting the Campus Police Services and Hospitality & Retail Operations, the building will also provide an extension to the existing Academic Annex via a shared courtyard and garden.

3. Renovations to the William G. Davis Building

Expected Completion: Spring 2019

The renovation of the William G. Davis Building comprises updates to numerous areas and services.

It currently houses lecture theatres, laboratories, classrooms, and offices, along with the Temporary Food Court (TFC), the UTM bookstore, and it is linked to the Recreation, Athletics, and Wellness Centre.

The renovations will create a refurbished main entrance and new accessible washrooms adjacent to the TFC.

The changes are designed to accommodate the increased student population. According to Paul Donoghue, then-UTM Chief Administrative Officer, a “new living room for the campus” will be formed of a permanent food court and a meeting hub that will provide seating for up to 1,000 people. The social area will be built in the location of the demolished Meeting Place.


UTM expects to welcome its largest group of first-year students

Student surge comes as much of the campus remains under construction

UTM expects to welcome its largest group of first-year students

UTM expects to welcome its largest incoming undergraduate class ever this fall, though much of the campus is under construction.

Professor Ulrich Krull, Vice-President and Principal of UTM, told The Varsity in an email that “it is expected that the incoming class may be about 10% larger than that [of] last year,” though he added that he is sure that the growth of the campus would properly accommodate the large wave of incoming students.

Krull called the increase in acceptances of offers “unexpected,” but he added that “this outcome reflects the competitive positioning that UTM has achieved.”

Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2017, UTM has grown considerably over the years. From a single academic building that held 155 students, 28 faculty, and 40 staff members in its inaugural year, today UTM is host to 14,000 undergraduate students, 682 graduate students, and over 54,000 alumni.

These numbers are only increasing, so what exactly is UTM going to do in order to properly accommodate its growing student population?

“As done every year, arrangements are being made with academic departments and institutes, and with the various student service operations to accommodate the incoming class and ensure that all UTM students have an outstanding experience,” wrote Krull.

Buildings still under renovation at UTM include the Davis Building, the Health Sciences Complex, Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre, Kaneff Centre, North Building, Principal’s Residence Lislehurst, and Erindale Hall.

According to UTM’s Facilities Management and Planning, its project schedules indicated that most of these buildings needed at least three more weeks of construction in August. However, this does not guarantee that the buildings would be fully completed.

Since the start of construction, there have been concerns about student access to study spaces, classrooms, and eating areas, as the rate of student growth has not changed.

“The campus has experienced total undergraduate enrolment growth at a rate of about 10% each year for the past 10 years and we welcome and look forward to the arrival of the incoming class,” wrote Krull.

Student Commons opening delayed to January 2019

Opening originally scheduled for September, postponed due to construction delays

Student Commons opening delayed to January 2019

The opening of the Student Commons — a proposed student centre that has been in the works for over a decade — has been delayed from September 2018 to January 2019. According to the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), which is in charge of running the centre, the postponement is due to unexpected construction delays.

Though they will not have an exact opening date until the construction nears completion, UTSU Vice-President Operations Tyler Biswurm told The Varsity, “We are as confident as we could possibly be in our projected open date.”

Biswurm explained that since the Student Commons building at 230 College Street is over 100 years old, it presents its own unique renovation difficulties.

“Due to contemporary limitations in construction techniques, the poor quality of building materials used, and the loss of architectural documentation to time, multiple unforeseen obstacles have presented themselves in the implementation of plans for the Student Commons,” said Biswurm.

Both the proposed Operating Levy fee of $6.50 and the increased semesterly levy of $14.25 will be pushed back to the second semester in accordance with the building’s delayed opening.

The approaching opening of the Student Commons marks the end of a journey that began in 2007, when students voted to implement a levy to fund the Student Commons. The project has since faced tremendous financial difficulties, with a 2016 budget plan forecasting a $300,000 deficit in the first year. A 2017 estimate lowered this amount to around $27,000.

Prior to this most recent delay, the building’s opening had already been pushed back from September 2017 to September 2018. During this time, changes had to be made to the plan to decrease the likelihood of bankruptcy, as the building’s agreement outlining the UTSU’s terms of use states that U of T will have the right to seize control in the case of two consecutive years of deficits following the first three years of operation.

Biswurm confirmed that the building is still on track to report a surplus in its third fiscal year, which will keep the building in the hands of the UTSU.

Among the groups that had planned to move into the Student Commons in September is the UTSU, which will remain in its current office at 12 Hart House Circle during the first semester. On behalf of any other groups that had planned to move into the building as of September, “the UTSU did negotiate extended occupancy permissions for all service groups and levy groups that had been promised space.”

Biswurm emphasized that all student groups are a priority for the UTSU as the Student Commons takes shape, adding that “whether it be for hosting their events programming, for hosting their regular office hours, for use as [a] convenient meeting space, or for use as a staging ground for events, the Student Commons is built to facilitate the vital role clubs play on the U of T campus.”