By McGill Reporter Staff
Construction begins in earnest today at the Macdonald-Stewart Library Building on the downtown campus, home of the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering.
Scaffolding will be erected around the building once again (it was sheathed in scaffolding and netting during a recent roof-replacement project) as stonemasons examine the 120-year-old, late-Victorian gem from inside and out to determine the degree to which its old stone has deteriorated.
During the roof project, degradation was observed from above, which prompted McGill to commission a report early this year into the state of the building. That report, received this summer, recommended some quick action to be taken before winter sets in to effect repairs before the freeze-thaw cycle has a chance to exacerbate cracks in stone and joints, said Bob Stanley, Director of Project Management in the University Services Department.
On the inside, crews will construct interior walls to seal off certain areas, floor by floor, from the rest of the interior space. This is to help minimize dust, noise and cold from disturbing those who are studying and working in the Library, but there will still be significant disruptions between now and Christmas, said Diane Koen, Senior Director of Planning and Resources for McGill’s libraries.
In order to maintain the number of study spaces, some shelves and their contents will be relocated. Much of the material, mostly bound journals, will be moved to storage areas in the Currie Gym and will remain retrievable, Koen said.
“Obviously, we’d prefer not to disrupt our students and staff at this busy time of year, but we have no choice and we will make the best of it,” Koen said. “We’re asking for everyone’s patience and our staff will do their best, as always, to try to deal with people’s problems and concerns as best we can. We are trying to ensure that the heavy-duty construction will take place mostly in the morning, when there is less demand on the Library.”
The situation is not dangerous, Stanley said. “We’re taking the necessary steps now to make sure it won’t become dangerous. We have to take this seriously and we are. Stone deteriorates at an advancing rate, and the more water infiltrates cracks in the stone and freezes in the winter, the larger those cracks become. It’s a spiraling cycle. The larger the cracks become, the more water can infiltrate. It’s the same with any stone building anywhere in Montreal. We’ve had considerable experience with this issue on the downtown campus where 37 of our buildings were built before 1900. This one was built in 1893.”
The initial work is expected to cost a bit less than $4 million and is scheduled to be completed by Christmas. Pedestrians circulating near the building are asked to obey Security personnel, particularly while the scaffolding is being erected.
The Macdonald-Stewart Library Building, not to be confused with the Macdonald-Stewart Building on the Macdonald Campus, has some significant history. It was built in 1893 as a Physics Building. In 1908, Sir Ernest Rutherford won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of some of the work he conducted in the building early in the new century, which led to his being considered “the father of nuclear physics.”