Renovations of the University Centre, commonly known as the Shatner Building, began this past April and were slated to be completed in Winter 2019. Gert’s was scheduled to be open to the public by the Fall 2018 semester, with the upper floors gradually resuming operations until the renovations were completed. Now, however, the SSMU Executive Team has announced that the Centre will not be accessible before the end of the 2018-2019 academic year.
The statement by SSMU, emailed to students on August 14, explained that obstacles including “hazardous material removal, heating, and ventilation” have “significantly hampered [the project’s] progress.” The statement also acknowledged that the prolonged building closure will have significant impact on student life, especially for the many clubs, services, and independent student groups that operate out of the University Centre.
One such organization is Players’ Theatre, which is normally located on the 3rd floor of the building. The theatre group was already forced to close prematurely in March, in the middle of their annual drama festival, due to the discovery of disturbed asbestos in the theatre. Consequently, Players’ is currently scheduled to do one show at the Mainline Theatre during the fall semester, rather than the usual two in the regular theatre. Cheyenne Cranston, the Executive Director of Players’, expressed the group’s disappointment with the continued closure, stating: “As of right now we have many questions about what possibilities there are for finding us alternative spaces in the second semester.” She expressed hope that “SSMU will continue to assist [them] in every way possible to come up with the best possible solution to offer the maximum number of shows to the McGill and Montreal community.” Despite the continued challenge, Cranston affirmed that “the show must go on, and we are determined to make that happen.”
According to SSMU President Tre Mansdoerfer, the delay is a result of “unseen issues which arose during the construction process after they gave [the executive] the original timeline in June.” Mansdoerfer admits that while the executive was “caught off guard in the change of construction plans,” SSMU had already been “preparing to get as much space as [they] could regardless of the construction timeline.” He affirmed that the project managers are ultimately in charge of communicating information to the executive, which they did once the update became available.
To address the issue, Mansdoerfer confirmed that the executive has been working closely with the Office of the Deputy Provost, as well as collaborating with building directors and faculty associations, to find alternative spaces. He also stated that the executive is looking at space outside of the traditional campus sphere for relocation of clubs, services and independent student groups. Currently, the executive is considering using their property at 3501 Peel as a bookable space during the day. SSMU will also be extending their ongoing consultations with clubs and services, as well as maintaining the use of temporary locations at 2075 Robert Bourassa and 3471 Peel. The executive concedes, however, that they will likely not be be able to accommodate every group’s need for alternative space.
SSMU has asked the student body for patience, cooperation, and partnership as they continue to address the issue. In the announcement, the executive invited comments, questions, and suggestions from the student body, even welcoming those who merely wanted to “express frustration.”