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.”

Long-awaited Myhal Centre for Engineering to open at UTSG

Building open to general public, though some spaces to be engineering-exclusive

Long-awaited Myhal Centre for Engineering to open at UTSG

Ten years in the making, the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation & Entrepreneurship will be ready for use this year. Development began as early as 2008, with construction starting three years ago.

Full occupancy of the building is expected by June. The site was previously used as a parking lot, and was chosen for development due to its proximity to the Engineering Annex building on St. George Street.

As with all other U of T buildings, the Myhal Centre will be open to the general public. Certain spaces, however, will be restricted to engineering students only

The university hopes the centre will serve as a positive meeting place for innovation. Catherine Riddell, the Executive Director Communications for the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering, told The Varsity that the university hopes the Myhal Centre “will spark collaboration across disciplines and foster creativity among our students, faculty, staff, alumni and industry partners.”

“As a world-class engineering school, our priority is to provide spaces that enable active, experiential learning and collaborative multidisciplinary research,” Riddell said.

Unfortunately, the building’s history is marred by tragedy. On September 8, 2017, an accident at the site resulted in the death of 52-year-old construction worker Tim DesGrosseilliers. One other worker suffered injuries.

U of T to build 14-storey wood tower above Goldring Centre

Tower expected to be tallest building of its kind in North America

U of T to build 14-storey wood tower above Goldring Centre

The University of Toronto has announced plans to build a 14-storey timber tower above the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport. Construction is set to begin in early 2019 and end in early 2022. Once completed, the tower is expected to be the tallest mass timber and concrete hybrid building in North America.

The project is expected to provide a number of academic facilities for the Rotman Executive Programs, the Munk School of Global Affairs, the Faculty of Arts & Science’s Master in Mathematical Finance program, and the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education.

While the university originally planned to build the tower with steel, it changed course after recognizing the benefits of timber, including a low carbon footprint, fire safety, and faster construction time.

In a press release from the university, Gilbert Delgado, U of T’s Chief of University Planning, Design and Construction, said that such thick columns in the building will improve fire safety as they are very difficult to ignite.

“If you try to ignite a log with a match, you’ll find out how difficult it is to ignite,” he said.

Delgado told The Varsity that there will be no impact to student traffic in the area and in the Goldring Centre as the tower will be built on one side. The student centre will remain open during construction.

Funding for the building will come from the university, philanthropy, and subsidies from the provincial and federal governments.  Budgeting details and overall costs for the project have yet to be disclosed, as the tower is in its design phase.

The university is partnering with Patkau Architects, an architecture and design research studio based in Vancouver; MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects, a prominent Toronto design firm; and Blackwell Structural Engineers, a Toronto-based engineering consulting company. The team previously worked on the construction of the Goldring Centre in 2014.

North end of Queen’s Park to close for revitalization project

Popular shortcut from Vic, St. Mike’s to remain fenced off until October

North end of Queen’s Park to close for revitalization project

The north end of Queen’s Park will be closed from March to October as part of a revitalization project tackling the aging infrastructure and damaged green space in the park.

The Queen’s Park North Improvements plan comes after years of increased usage of the historic downtown park by the booming population of nearby residents and tourists alike. The current infrastructure of the park lacks reliable paths and consistent benches.

Queen’s Park North makes up the section of the park north of Wellesley Street. The north end of this section — from the central King Edward VII Plaza to the top of the circle — will be closed for the first phase of the revitalization until October. The south side of Queen’s Park North will be closed off from March 2019 to August 2019. The construction notice states that “a pedestrian access path will be provided,” but it is unclear whether that path will lead through or around the closed-off area.

The project began in 2014 with extensive community and stakeholder consultations. The city’s plan for upgrading the park’s usability is to create better infrastructure for moving through the space, adding seating, and improving access points to the park, particularly at the Hoskin Avenue entrance, which is also a vital connection to campus.

A permanent walkway encircling the park will be built, replacing the well-trodden dirt path currently there and making the park more accessible for jogging. Some of the existing dilapidated paths will be demolished in favour of a more structured system of main walkways in and through the park.

One major addition coming with the project is a new Queen’s Park Promenade, connecting the Highlanders Monument of Canada Plaza at the northernmost end of the park with the King Edward VII Plaza in the centre with a wide walkway lined with benches.

Another objective of the project is the revitalization of its trees and lawns. The large trees of the park are a unique quality in the middle of the city, and the city will be planting more trees to ensure that the “urban canopy” is protected. Ninety large canopy and 70 understorey deciduous trees will be added to the park, alongside new grass turf and spring flowering bulbs along some walkways.

“When walking through the park, I often notice how empty the physical space is. With few benches, statues, and trees, the park itself is not visually appealing,” said U of T student Karel Peters. “I think that green space, especially in large cities, is very important. It’s nice to know that parks are still valued. Hopefully the improvements will create a more inviting atmosphere.”

The TTC Line 1 extension isn’t a total victory

Re: “Commuter students react to new TTC Line 1 extension”

The TTC Line 1 extension isn’t a total victory

Commuter students celebrating the opening of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Line 1 extension should first consider a few facts about the project that may leave them scratching their heads.

The project began in 2009, and was supposed to be completed by 2015 on a budget of $2.6 billion. By the time it was completed, it was $600,000 over budget, two years late, and afflicted by the death of a construction worker that occurred on site in 2011. Dubbed a “fiasco” by Mayor John Tory, the project also saw the firing of two veteran TTC managers and project management turnover to Bechtel Corporation to ensure its opening date would not exceed 2018 or 2019. Even after its completion, the TTC is still settling claims from contractors over alleged unpaid work, and will likely be doing so for years.

Undoubtedly, the construction of public transportation infrastructure such as the TTC Line 1 extension is an extremely complicated and expensive task. However, we should acknowledge the inexcusable incompetence displayed by our elected officials in the municipal government as well as the TTC. U of T commuters should have had this subway extension built two years ago, and could have potentially saved an enormous amount of commuting time and money over this period. Also, given that the project was over budget, a portion of Torontonians’ taxes were wasted on this project due to poor project management by the TTC.

Commuters should feel bittersweet about this project. It will definitely make it easier and cheaper for many students to get to school, but the process it took to achieve this possibility was very disappointing.

Peter Dominicis is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Accounting.

University College renovations set to begin in January

Proposed renovations prioritize undergraduate usage and accessibility

University College renovations set to begin in January

A Town Hall hosted by the University College Literary and Athletic Society (UC Lit) on October 10 discussed many of the drastic changes planned for the UC Building. The renovations, proposed in 2015, are part of a multi-million-dollar 10-year plan to restore the historic university buildings. Construction is scheduled to begin in early January of next year.

According to University College Principal Donald Ainslie, there are four core principles that influenced the renovations’ design. The first was to “put undergraduates first.” The second was to place focus on heritage, since UC is a national historic site. The third principle was accessibility. “We wanted the idea of the college to be for everyone,” said Ainslie. Plans are in place to add a new elevator to the front of the building.

“The final priority in the renovation was ensuring that UC… [is the] iconic building of the University of Toronto… We want to make sure that… U of T’s identity as one of world’s great teaching and research universities [is] embodied in the use of the building.”

New features will include a restored library and reading room, which will be named after former Toronto Dominion Bank CEO Ed Clark for his $2.5 million donation. UC alumnus Paul Cadario also donated $3 million to the restoration project; there will be a conference centre at Croft Chapter House named after him.

The renovation costs are to be covered by college donors and a student levy established under UC Lit, which increased by $12.50 in accordance with a vote in March 2016. “Over the past three years, a student advisory committee appointed by the UC Lit has and continues to be involved in discussions on the renovations to ensure the needs of students will be prioritized in them, especially since UC students are paying for the renovation costs,” wrote UC Lit President Albert Hoang to The Varsity. “A large majority of UC students in March 2016 voted in favour of increasing their student fees by $12.50 per session (part time students would pay $5 per session) and these increases would go towards the student levy collected over 20 years.”

Several areas near UC will be inaccessible until the end of construction in spring 2019. The UC quad walkways will be closed to build wider paths; the east and west hall on the second floor of the college will be closed and will become the new library and Clarke Family Reading Room; and the Alumni Lounge and the F Wing Basement will be inaccessible.

Student organizations — including the college newspaper The Gargoyle, located in the F Wing — are working with university officials to “find a way for them to continue their activities even during the construction,” according to Ainslie.

Student events, including the Fireball social and Orientation organized by UC Lit, are also expected to be affected by the renovations. “Students will still be able to enjoy events put on by the UC Lit and its ancillaries,” said Hoang. UC Lit said it will be working with the college administration to “preserve the spirit and quality” of social events.