Renewing Old McGill

Photo: Neale McDevitt

By Jim Hynes

You may be forgiven for thinking there is more scaffolding than students in sight around McGill these days. Chances are, no matter where you are at the University, something nearby is being built, replaced or renovated.

Such is life at an institution as venerable as McGill. Because for all the good that comes from having such a rich architectural heritage, there is also the cold, hard fact that many of the University’s buildings are more than 100 years old, some more than 150. Good “old” McGill needs renovating, and the summer – with school mostly out, fewer students around to disrupt, and (usually) good weather – is the most logical time to do it.

While the “off season” is the time for planning on the academic and administrative side of things, for the people charged with the care of the various McGill properties and infrastructure, on and off both campuses, it’s the time to get things done – big things. All told, the people at McGill’s Facilities Operations and Development Department (University Services) are finishing up, planning, or right in the middle of some 600 or so projects. Up on roofs, underground, indoors and out, you name it, it’s happening at McGill.

“We have a unique convergence of circumstances that is allowing us to improve our buildings and facilities,” said Robert Stanley, Director, Project Management, Facilities Operations and Development. “Over the next three years we expect to spend an average of about $100 million per year on our campuses. This will be paid for through programs of the Quebec and Federal governments that were specifically established to fund infrastructure work in support of teaching, research and general deferred maintenance.”

“We are spending a lot of money over the next few years,” acknowledged Jim Nicell, Associate Vice-Principal (University Services). “In part, that’s because over the last few decades we haven’t had the kind of money we’ve needed to keep up with the repair and renewal our campus infrastructure. It’s important for the community to remember, too, that the funds we are now spending are earmarked by the governments specifically for this purpose, that the University can’t choose to spend these funds for some priority other than catching up on deferred maintenance and other infrastructure work. And even after we’re done with this lot, there’s still a long list of work we’ll need to tackle in the coming years.”

Information about each project will be posted at work sites in the form of Facilities Improvement Bulletins. Each bulletin will contain a phone number people can call with questions and concerns.

“As much as this is a great opportunity for McGill, we recognize that this work will cause disruptions in our community – some bigger than others,” said Ron Proulx, Executive Director, Facilities Operations and Development. “We count on your patience and understanding. We will do whatever possible to minimize the impact.”

The most visible projects already under way or scheduled to begin soon, and those likely to have the most impact on life at McGill, include:

●  The completion of the work on the service tunnel between the Ferrier and McConnell buildings. The heavy structural work is nearly finished, and a separate contract will be awarded to complete the landscaping of James Square and for the restoration of the surrounding sidewalks, benches and roadways. This work should begin in July and be completed by the end of October.

●  The final landscaping of the area disrupted by work on the Leacock-McTavish service tunnel should be completed before the end of July.

● The construction of a new service duct bank under University St. between the Otto Maas Chemistry Building and the Royal Victoria College (RVC) residences should begin in August. It will use special mining-type equipment so that traffic on the street above it will not be disturbed.

RVC/Strathcona Music:  Several projects including a large renovation of the RVC kitchen and cafeteria facility that should run until October; the rebuilding of the RVC front entrance this summer; masonry repairs on the corner block  (the old RVC wing belonging to Residences); the rebuilding of the roof on the Reading wing of Stratchcona music; a recently started, large scale fire protection and upgrade at Strathcona Music that will run for several months.

MNI expansion: Construction will begin in August and last approximately 18 months.

● Renovation and preparation as a residence of the former Four Points Sheraton hotel at 475 Sherbrooke St. to receive students in September.

● Re-roofing of the slate and copper roof on the Macdonald Stewart Library. Work will begin in August and continue through the fall but may only be completed in the spring.

● The replacement of the slate and copper roofing at Old Chancellor Day Hall. The project will begin shortly and may only be completed in spring 2010.

● The replacement of the old metal roof of the Redpath Museum with a spectacular zinc metal one. Work on the west side of the building will take place in 2009. Work on the east slope will be undertaken in 2010.

●  Important masonry and structural repairs at Redpath Hall. Work is already under way and will continue through the summer. The waterproofing of the building’s foundations will follow.

●  An important renovation/transformation of the street level floor of the McClennan Library Building to allow the Integrated Services facility (under the Deputy Provost Student Life and Learning) to be housed in a space on Sherbrooke St. (with a new front door on McTavish St.). Work will begin in September and run until 2010.

● The demolition, redesign and construction of the exterior terrace around Stewart Biology.  This project, initially intended to start in July 2009, will be postponed to the spring of 2010 as a result of a disappointing tender call in June.

●  The restoration/reconstruction of the front steps of Macdonald Engineering in limestone. The project began after the building’s roofing project was complete. Access to the building is being redirected through McConnell.

●   A large renovation to equip the electron microscope facility in the basement of Strathcona Dentistry with new services and infrastructure to support new electron microscope instrumentation is under way and will end in the fall.

●  The expansion of Molson Stadium to accomplish the addition of 5000 seats and other support facilities: The first lot involving preliminary structural work has been completed in time for the beginning of the Alouettes season. Construction on the main lot that includes the grandstand demolition and extension will begin in October and will run all winter until June 2010.

Macdonald Campus: The upgrade and replacement of a 25 KVA main electrical distribution line project is under way.  It includes a brand new electrical service entrance for the whole campus south of the railway tracks, including a new substation, the burial of the overhead lines, and new cabling to each of the major buildings all the way south to the Powerhouse. This project is unavoidably causing significant disruption to vehicular circulation on campus and will also require several power shut-downs through the summer as the new service is brought on line.