Successful Sheraton renovations mean rooms for 360 undergrads

Buildings like the Carrefour Sherbrooke are leased out during the summer to help keep costs down for students.
Buildings like the Carrefour Sherbrooke are leased out during the summer to help keep costs down for students.

By Neale McDevitt

In the world of athletics, the summer of 2009 will forever be remembered for Jamaican sprinter’s Usain Bolt’s otherworldly assault on the 100m and 200m record books. For the people in the department of Residences, a similar, though less-publicized mad dash to the finish will be forever emblazoned in their collective memory.

In April, McGill took possession of the Four Points Sheraton hotel and took on the task of converting the Sherbrooke St. building into a student residence by the end of August just four months later. Any homeowner who has endured renovations on a bathroom or a kitchen will tell you how long that type of work can take. Now multiply that by more than 150 rooms. “We inherited an incredibly tight timeline,” said Mike Porritt, Executive Director of Residences and Student Housing with a chuckle. “But, regardless, the work had to get done.”

Chief among the tasks at hand were the installation of the hardware data and wireless networks in all the rooms; the creation of common study space and laundry rooms; and a complete overhaul of the dinning area. Add to that a host of minor, code-related work, an unexpected major project (“We thought the roof would last another year, but upon closer inspection we realized it couldn’t wait any longer,” said Porritt), and some 360 students slated to pull up to the door with all their belongings on Aug. 22-23 and – well, you can excuse Porritt for the occasional sleepless night.

But Aug. 23 has come and gone and the newly minted Carrefour Sherbrooke Residence is alive with the sound of its new denizens getting settled in the place they will call home for at least the next year. And while the occasional sound of hammer and saw can still be heard (the finishing touches on the dining hall will be completed sometime next week and the common areas by the end of September), Porritt says the move-in was smooth.

“Lots of people pulled together to make this possible,” said Porritt. “David Balcombe (Manager, Buildings and Facilities), Rosetta Vannelli (Manager, Residence Accommodations), Adrian Nicolicescu (Senior Project Manager, Facilities Operations and Development) and Martin Rochefort (Operations Manager, Network and Communications Services) and their respective teams have been huge assets in working with the contractor and architect in getting us to this point in such a short time.”

“Especially in the beginning, one of the keys was the input of people who had been involved with the New Rez renovations,” said Porritt. “They had very valuable suggestions in terms of planning what had to get done at different times.”

As with New Rez, the acquisition of the Sheraton was a direct result of the ever-increasing demand for living space for new students who are guaranteed rooms in their first year. But even the addition of a 20-floor hotel hasn’t given McGill much breathing room. “We’re already at full capacity,” said Porritt. “What was going to be overflow space for Residences in the new building has been turned into permanent spaces to meet the demand.”

And as with New Rez, the former Radisson hotel on Park Ave., the Sheraton acquisition will be a self-financing proposition.