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Fertile Foundations

After 30 years of flat growth, new buildings are beginning to pop up all over

The buzz all over campus is unmistakable. Cranes and construction workers, muddy streets and massive hoardings all point to one thing: after a decade of making do and 30 years of flat growth, the university is on a building blitz. Everywhere there is physical evidence of U of T’s mission to become one of the top public research universities on the globe.

A number of buildings have recently been erected on the St. George campus: Graduate House on Harbord Street; the Munk Centre for International Studies; and the John W. Graham Library at Trinity College. After renovations and the addition of two storeys of laboratory space, the Lash Miller Chemical Laboratories has reopened as the John and Edna Davenport Chemical Research building. The Isabel Bader Theatre at Victoria University is scheduled to open this spring.

If you stroll down St. George Street toward College Street, you can glimpse the impressive beginnings of the Bahen Centre for Information Technology, going up just north of the Koffler Student Services Centre. The building is named for benefactor John Bahen (BASc 1954, D Eng Hon. 1999) and his wife, Margaret (Dip Occupational Therapy 1952), who kick-started the project with a multimillion-dollar gift early in 1999.

The artist’s rendering of the Bahen Centre on the construction hoarding shows an imposing, slightly tiered, eight-storey building with columns and a glass atrium. The 366,000-square-foot building will wrap around the 1878 buff brick house to the north at 44 St. George St. (former home of The Varsity), which is being restored inside and out. The historic building will house offices for the Professional Experience Year program, among others.

Many people are smiling over the $105-million project, but none more than Michael Charles, dean of applied science and engineering. “For at least a decade we have been planning a major expansion, particularly to undertake research in partnership with industry,” he explains. Now, with those business partnerships in place, interest in information technology burgeoning, and donations from Bahen and several others secured, the dream is coming to fruition.

The Bahen Centre will be “a wonderful presence on St. George Street,” says Safwat Zaky, chair of the Edward S. Rogers Sr. department of electrical and computer engineering. For Zaky, part of whose 90-member department will occupy the new facility, the centre can’t be finished soon enough. “Our department is bursting at the seams,” he says. “Right now a major problem is space. We are having to rent space, and we don’t have enough research labs for faculty.”

With the assistance of the province’s Access to Opportunities Program (ATOP), designed to increase the number of high-demand computer science and engineering graduates, Zaky’s department and the department of computer science are both doubling their undergraduate enrolments and substantially increasing their graduate student complements. The two departments plan to have a combined enrolment of 2,800 undergraduates and 700 graduate students by the year 2004. “For years we’ve been restricting our enrolments,” explains Eugene Fiume, chair of the department of computer science. “Now we can expand our undergraduate and graduate student numbers.” He is not waiting for the new building before hiring faculty, either, having recently added 21 new professors, nine from the United States. If Zaky and Fiume have their way, their departments will be among the best on the continent. Both mention the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at Berkeley when they talk about the top schools.

The goal is to have the building finished by March 2002. The design will reinforce the existing interaction between the two computer departments. Above an underground parking garage for about 300 cars will be three floors of undergraduate facilities, including 30 classrooms and 22 labs. Dozens of faculty offices, research labs and graduate student facilities will occupy the middle storeys. On the seventh floor will be the Bell University Laboratories and the Nortel Institute for Telecommunications. The Nortel Institute will focus in part on photonics and nanoelectronics, two growth areas essential in innovations like high-speed interactive TV. The Bell University Laboratories’ work will centre on creating the next generation of technology for network services and applications.

The Bahen Centre, which is taking shape this winter, is only the first of a dozen new buildings in a massive plan to enlarge and improve the physical plant of the university. Not since the 1960s has there been such an emphasis on capital improvements. “There’s a desperate need for more space,” says Vice-President and Provost Adel Sedra. “Our enrolment is at an all-time high of 55,000 students.” In 2000, the university had a 3.5-per-cent increase in first-year enrolment, and the upward trend is expected to continue. The elimination of Grade 13 in Ontario, coupled with an increasing demand for university education as the children of the baby boomers move through the system, has demographers projecting that the Ontario university system will have to accommodate an extra 90,000 students over the next 10 years. For all of these reasons, the university must expand its physical space.

In February 2000, the province’s SuperBuild Growth Fund awarded four of the most urgent campus projects a total of $80 million, and construction began in earnest. For example, nearly a quarter ($24 million) of the money for the Bahen Centre comes from the province’s SuperBuild Growth Fund.

A couple of blocks east of the Bahen Centre, just north of College Street, another high-tech building with an emphasis on collaboration is being planned. The Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research (CCBR) is still in the approval stages, but the outlines of the project are clear. A 223,000-square-foot, 12-storey research tower for faculty and graduate students will be built at the north end of Taddle Creek Road, abutting the medical sciences building. The federal and provincial governments have each committed $25.6 million from their respective innovation funds for the CCBR, and the university needs to raise about $50 million of the projected $105-million cost.

The new research facility, which will be unique in Canada, will accommodate members from three different faculties pharmacy, engineering and medicine who work in the area of cellular and biomolecular research. “We will break down departmental demarcations,” says Cecil Yip, vice-dean of research in the Faculty of Medicine. He and James Friesen, chair of the Banting and Best department of medical research, are jointly overseeing the project. While researchers and pharmacists work on medical problems, engineers will work in the same building on such challenges as developing biomaterials suitable for repairing damaged organs. “This is the way to do research in biology,” says Yip. When it’s finished in mid-2005, the CCBR will house 430 full-time researchers, including 60 principal investigators.

In the future an underground tunnel will connect the CCBR to another new building to be constructed on the northwest corner of College Street and University Avenue, where the department of botany’s greenhouses now stand. The $44-million Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building will allow the faculty to double its undergraduate enrolment to 240, says Dean K. Wayne Hindmarsh. Provincial government support for this project came in the form of $28.8 million through the SuperBuild Growth Fund. The provincial money augmented the university’s $7.2-million commitment to the project and the $8 million that Leslie L. Dan (Pharmacy 1954), founder of Novopharm Limited, donated in June 2000.

The shovel goes into the ground early in 2002 for the 108,000-square-foot building, which will have five storeys above ground and two below, several state-of-the-art research labs, and possibly a ground-floor atrium that will function as a meeting place. Hindmarsh is delighted with the planned buildings “phenomenal” location and the buzz it is creating in pharmacy circles. “People are asking about ways they can be involved,” he says.

Two projects on the suburban campuses of Mississauga and Scarborough are also well into the planning stages after receiving substantial funding from the province’s SuperBuild Growth Fund. At U of T at Scarborough the Academic Resource Centre, a $18.4-million addition to the existing library, is slated to open in summer 2003, says Ted Relph, associate principal. The 56,000-square-foot expansion will include new digital media capability, study space for about 180 students, a 500-seat lecture theatre that can double as a concert hall, and half a dozen new “smart” classrooms (equipped with the latest electronic technology). Visually, the design will complement the pair of John Andrews poured-concrete buildings that will be its neighbours.

Collaboration is again the theme for a new $25-million home for the Communication, Culture and Information Technology (CCIT) program, which will start this fall at the University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) and Sheridan College. “We see this as an opportunity to blend Sheridan’s amazing reputation for new media and computer animation with our theoretical approach,” says Robert McNutt, principal of UTM. There will be places for 1,200 students in two buildings, one on the Sheridan campus and one at UTM.

When it is finished in the fall of 2003, UTM’s high-tech, 112,000-square-foot CCIT building will house research facilities and offices, as well as undergraduate teaching labs and classrooms. “We have enough money already to build the building,” says McNutt. “We’re now raising money for the interior.” Most of the capital ($15.79 million) has come from the province’s SuperBuild Growth Fund, while the City of Mississauga donated $3.5 million for the project.

One of the obvious challenges faced by UTM and Scarborough is the possibility of a huge enrolment jump — by as much as 50 per cent over the next few years, as U of T’s undergraduate expansion focuses on the suburban campuses. If the expected go-ahead for that growth happens, McNutt will have a list of new buildings on the drawing board, including a much-needed $20-million athletics building.

Also waiting for the official nod are those in charge of the Varsity Project of the Faculty of Physical Education and Health. The project has been through earlier incarnations, but in its present form the plan is to demolish the 20,000-seat Varsity Stadium and replace it with a more practical 5,000-seat facility. “The project will create an enlivened space for athletics,” says Mary Ann Pilskalnietis, special assistant to the dean. Instead of catering to elite athletes, the facility will offer recreational programs for all students in everything from fitness to yoga to ping-pong.

The new facilities will include an eight-lane track, an artificial-turf field (better for year-round sports including women’s field hockey) and two ice surfaces, one of them regulation NHL size. (Varsity Arena likely will be kept.) The athletic facilities will be the centrepiece of a neighbourhood of student residences that will wrap around the field on the north and west sides. Unlike earlier plans, this one will offer vistas from Bloor Street right down to the CN Tower. There’s no word yet on the price tag, but Pilskalnietis hopes construction will start early in 2002 after the fall competitive season ends.

A major renovation to the architecture building on College Street is a “very high priority for us,” says Sedra. He’s conscious of the irony of housing the Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design in a building that is 93 years old, and is one of the least attractive on campus. “It needs $10 million to revamp it, which we will do in phases as we get the money. We’ve already spent $2 million on the inside, but from the outside it looks terrible,” he says. The local architectural community has given lots of help, and the university has pledged to match any funds raised by the faculty. The faculty is also in the midst of thorough academic rebuilding. The undergraduate programs are being phased out. New students will require an undergraduate degree and will have to submit a portfolio in order to enter one of three masters programs offered.

Thanks to a lead donation from Russell (MA 1947) and Katherine Morrison (PhD 1979), work is about to start this spring on the Gerstein Science Information Centre, with a 32,000-square-foot, five-storey addition to the east side of the library building facing Queen’s Park. The Morrison Pavillion will double student study space. “Included in the addition will be 650 wired spaces in individual carrels and tables,” says librarian Joan Leishman, director of the centre. Other features of the $12-million project are an improved layout and better access to electronic and print collections. A future $8-million renovation phase, which will include the restoration of the reference room, has already been approved in principle.

The historic building at 1 Spadina Crescent, where insulin was first commercially manufactured, will be spruced up through a minimum investment of $20 million to become the headquarters of the department of English, the department of fine art and the museum studies program. The building will be used mostly for faculty offices and seminar rooms. One of the most pressing needs is to offer a place for English graduate students, who currently “have no space anywhere on campus except in the Robarts Library,” says Sedra. The building sits in the circle just north of College Street on Spadina Avenue. “We want to retain the exterior for its historic significance,” says Ray deSouza, director of planning and infrastructure of the Faculty of Arts and Science.

A new space is needed for the department of psychology. “We have a first-rate psychology department, which is expanding in the area of neuropsychology and needs labs,” says Sedra. No decision has been made on whether to build or renovate an existing building, but a tentative fund-raising target of $20 million has been set.

Nursing and the departments of occupational therapy (OT) and physical therapy (PT) are other disciplines where capital funds will be spent, says Sedra. The OT and PT departments are housed in an inadequate building on McCaul Street, and the university has set a preliminary target of $20 million to provide them with new quarters. “It is a very high priority to find a new or renovated facility for the rehabilitation sciences,” says Sedra.

Another priority for under-graduate education is a classroom complex somewhere on St. George Street or perhaps under the new Varsity project. “We need a 1,500-seat smart lecture hall with the latest presentation technology,” says Sedra. First-year lectures in half a dozen disciplines such as psychology and sociology are now given in Convocation Hall, where projection capabilities are very limited. The university is hoping to raise $10 million for this project.

With more than a dozen projects springing up in all directions and buzz everywhere about a mission to be ranked with the very best, the old school is getting much more than a facelift. It is more like a blood transfusion, giving new energy to U of T as it forges ahead into the 21st century.

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