On October 12, the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) held a forum to address students’ concerns about the upcoming building closure, scheduled to take effect in February 2018. Sitting on the panel were project manager Adrian Nicolicescu, representative from the office of the Deputy Provost Jonathan Norland, SSMU VP Student Life Jemark Earle, and SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes.
The town hall began with Hughes apologizing on behalf of the SSMU for how information on the building closure was relayed to the student body — primarily via Facebook event and other informal channels. Hughes explained that members of the SSMU Executive knew about the building’s closure in March, but were not aware of the specifics until recently, at which time they announced the imminent closure.
The presentation then shifted to an overview of the construction project. Project manager Adrian Nicolicescu explained the current state of the building. The team’s primary concern pertains to the building’s rooftop mechanical room, which, as evidenced by the graphics Nicolicescu provided, is in a state of utter disrepair. The room, which houses the building’s ventilation and air circulation system has asbestos tiles. It is therefore imperative that the building be evacuated entirely during the first phase of the construction process, which will specifically target the rooftop mechanical room. Other “less invasive” building improvements will include the installation of additional washrooms, replacing the building’s electrical distribution system, and updating parts of the plumbing system that have been deemed obsolete.
The project team, according to Nicolicescu, is cognizant of the impact that the building closure will have on student life and is taking steps to ensure that construction follows a tight schedule. If all goes according to plan, there will be a “progressive return” of tenants, including clubs and services, in August 2018. A return to full occupancy is expected by December 2018.
Clubs and services will, however, be impacted during the Spring 2018 semester. Hughes explained that the SSMU is working closely with campus clubs and organizations to find alternative spaces: “we’re committed to help groups that have been displaced.” One alternative location, a building on Peel Street, has already been confirmed to house certain services.
Hughes stressed that the construction project will not impact services housed in the Brown Student Services Building, and then opened the discussion to questions from students.
Students raised questions that touched on several common concerns: space, accessibility, and rent. Addressing concerns about space, Hughes explained that the SSMU is working closely with student groups to find alternative arrangements but encouraged students to use their networks: “you know your activities better than we do; explore your own options.”
Groups with special space requirements including Players’ Theatre and music clubs do not, as of yet, have alternative arrangements. Representatives from these groups asked for assistance from the panel members in finding spaces that meet their unique needs for rehearsal, performance, and storage of set pieces, equipment, and instruments.
In response to a question from a representative from Queer McGill, who voiced concerns about the lack of wheelchair access to Queer McGill’s proposed interim space, Hughes replied simply that “we do live in Montreal” and that most buildings are equipped with staircases and not elevators. Hughes, however, assured the representative that the SSMU would work with the manager of the interim space to construct a wheelchair ramp.
Questions were also raised about rent payments for the duration of the building closure. Hughes explained that for the duration of the closure, tenants of the building will not be expected to make rent payments to the SSMU. Hughes ensured students that conversations will be had to discuss options for groups that may incur additional rent costs in their alternative locations.
In closing, Hughes provided an overview of steps that the SSMU is taking to ensure that information pertaining to the building’s closure is relayed to the student body effectively. The SSMU will update its website periodically with updates. A specific section dedicated to the building’s closure is scheduled to launch soon. Additionally, a second information session will be held in November that will relay pertinent project updates.
In the meantime, Hughes encouraged students to reach out to members of the SSMU Executive with questions and concerns: “there will be some support for you and what you are doing.”