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.

Practice rooms for music students unavailable as construction project plays on

Renovations expected to be completed by end of November

Practice rooms for music students unavailable as construction project plays on

Four practice rooms in the Edward Johnson Building (EJB) are closed as a result of renovations to the electro-acoustic music studio (EMS), a recording space for music students located in the basement of the building. There are around 30 total practice rooms available to students at the Faculty of Music.

Renovations to the EMS, part of a $190 million upgrade to U of T’s research labs, called Lab Innovation for Toronto, are expected to conclude by the end of November.

Kevin Howey, Associate Dean of Operations at the Faculty, told The Varsity that “most of what’s happening now is inside the EMS space, so the impact on the surrounding area really has been reduced greatly.”

Howey stated that in addition to creating an environment for students to learn about new music technology, the renovations to the EMS had the goal of installing more heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning into the area to bring “more air” into the space.

Howey also suggested that a closure of one more practice room might be on the way. “It could be one small section where [the construction crew] may have to run some ducting,” he said. “We’ll need to plan a few days when one of the other practice rooms will essentially have this ducting added through the ceiling.”

As a solution to the closed practice rooms, eight more have been added on the third floor of 90 Wellesley Street West, said Howey. “So we’re actually four practice rooms ahead of where we were.”

Jonathan Wong, a Music Education student majoring in the clarinet, noted the distracting drilling noises and dust plaguing the rooms during construction. “They’ve opened up an additional four practice rooms over there, which is nice, but it’s not as convenient for us,” he continued.

Wong also said that the rooms still available in the EJB are being completely booked up. “I was bugged because my favorite practice room has been taken over,” he said.

Rebekah Tam, President of the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA), said that the closing of the four rooms hasn’t had much impact on student life because people are used to a first-come, first-serve online booking service for practice rooms.

Music undergraduates to establish independent endowment fund

FMUA hopes to use ethical divestment returns for student projects

Music undergraduates to establish independent endowment fund

The Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) is seeking to establish an endowment fund independent of U of T. The fund is set to launch in September 2016.

The initiative features two main short-term objectives. According to the official proposal for the fund, it was contrived “to improve the co-curricular experience of the Faculty of Music undergraduate students.”

The proposal states that “the principle of the fund can be spent on capital projects such as the construction of student space in the future.”

The plan is for $120,000 to be invested into the fund each year at a rate of $200 per student. The interest rate of six per cent could then help reduce other fees incurred by the FMUA.

According to Mathias Memmel, FMUA co-president, the decision to establish an endowment fund separate from the university is consistent with the society’s mission. “The problem with doing it through the university is that you don’t actually retain the funds, they are no longer the assets of the corporation — really it’s a donation to the university that you have some say over.”

Memmel believes that giving a third-party the final say on where students’ money is invested is inappropriate, noting that “for [the FMUA], we see it as an infringement on our autonomy as a student society and we want to be sure that we are keeping those funds in trust on the behalf of the students.”

The FMUA is striving for complete autonomy with respect to the endowment fund, in order to best serve the interests of students.  “We have to be absolutely accountable to our membership and how we spend the money,” said Memmel.

The FMUA is a supporter of ethical divestment and is looking to create a stock portfolio that reflects this. Memmel goes on to explain that “U of T has an incredible return on its endowment find — upwards of six per cent sometimes — but you have to balance that with your morals.”

“If this money is being used to subsidize our mental health and wellness counselor, our study spaces, or the café — it can’t be on the backs of cultural genocide across the world,” Memmel added.

Future projects

The FMUA hopes to use the returns to power its initiatives aimed at improving student life. This year, a writing centre solely for music students was created and a tutoring program staffed by graduate students was organized to provide extra help with lecture material. Future plans include recruitment of a Mental Health and Wellness Counselor to help cater to the special needs of music students, as well as a student-run café in the lobby of the main building.

“The building is on its last legs,” said Memmel; “it was designed for 400 people and there are about 1,000 people working out of this space right now and so part of it that there is a shortage of some very key things.” Practice rooms, student lounge space, and meeting spaces for smaller clubs are a high priority, with the prospect of a need for a new building in sight.

Currently, these initiatives are funded using the student levy fund which collected nearly $525,000 last year and holds $700,000 with the dean from previous years. Induced by the FMUA, the heavy student levy fees were collected to offset improvement costs, but were never put to use. The endowment fund “is a way of long-term reducing the burden [of the levy fees],” Memmel said.

Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association undergoes major levy restructuring

Two new funds established, fees reduced by $300 annually

Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association undergoes major levy restructuring

Members of the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) have voted to approve the creation of an Endowment Fund and a Special Projects Fund. The referendum was held between November 23 and 27 and was intended to change the FMUA’s levy structure and to evaluate student support for a fall reading week.

The vote resulted in a $300 yearly reduction of the student fees paid to the FMUA.  “As per our bylaws, all the levies have [met] the 60 percent threshold. As such, student fees paid to the FMUA will drop from $600 per semester to $450, resulting in a $300 yearly reduction per student,” read part of an email circulated to all FMUA members at the end of the referendum.

A proposal for the FMUA to lobby for a fall reading week also passed, with 205 votes in favour and 16 opposed. Mathias Memmel, FMUA co-president, stated that one of the issues with the old levy structure lay in “a discrepancy between the FMUA’s budget planning process… and the faculty budget planing process with the provost’s office. These schedule differences resulted in the Faculty Admin [sic] implicitly allocating funds before consultation was had with the FMUA. While I don’t think this was done maliciously, it put the FMUA in a situation where it was not completely autonomous in its budgeting process,” explained Memmel. According to Memmel, the goal was to put the control of the funds back into the hands of the students.

“The previous levy structure essentially gave all our union fees directly to the faculty. The [FMUA] had no control over the money,” said Jacob Abrahamse, a U of T music student, regarding the old levy structure. Abrahamse believes that the referendum results are a positive change from the old system. “[The changes allow our] money to be managed by our own union and not the faculty,” she said, lauding the allocation of funding towards mental health and a student resource centre. Memmel said that the province’s definition of co-curricular services and spaces was also an issue. 

“For the Faculty of Music, co-curricular spaces include the theatres and performance venues. This is… inherent mislabeling, one that plagues all music institutions across the province, that we don’t want to reinforce,” Memmel explained.

While he acknowledges that such venues are necessary to the operation of an applied music program, he commented that labelling them as ‘co-curricular’ is comparable to “slapping co-curricular labels on the applied components of other programs [such as] dental chairs at the Faculty of Dentistry, gymnasiums and pools at [the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education], labs at Engineering etc.”

Under the new levy structure, students no longer fund theatres and music venues. Instead they must seek funding from the province, reducing the amount that students have to pay.

“Correctly labelled or not, these facilities are clearly curricular in nature and since they can’t be run in the [current] budget model, the funding has to come from the province. By no longer funding performance spaces, we were able to reduce the overall amount [paid] by students to the association by 25 percent,”  Memmel explained. He believes that this new system contains a higher level of transparency and allows for a more efficient allocation of funds towards student projects. “In terms of the funds from the Special Projects Fund and the interest gained from the endowment they will be allocated to member and faculty submitted projects,” he stated. Memmel added that the FMUA now holds the ability to approve projects conditionally, solving a previous problem regarding the group’s control over their budget. 

Abrahamse still supports the complete elimination of the student levy. “[As]it stands, little of the money was and will [sic] benefit all students equally,” he said, referring to the allocation of $224,409 in the 2014–2015 academic year towards the production and staging of opera.  “However, the Opera is primarily for graduate students and a small number of third-year and fourth-year vocal majors.”