Future buildings showcased

The tentative plans for the development of the St. Michael’s campus site and substantial additions to the existing buildings along University Ave. were brought before two university committees and the board of governors before Reading Week. The plans featured floor layouts for the Global Innovation Exchange building to be developed on the St. Michael’s site and the Campus Learning Commons proposed to be built between the Quad, Concourse and above the existing Paul Martin Centre to the edge of University Ave. If both proceed as planned, the projects would add approximately 10 acres of indoor physical space.

“I can’t tell you how delighted I am that the plans have been approved,” said Ginny Dybenko, Laurier’s executive: strategic initiatives. “There’s still a long way ahead of us because what gets serious now is fundraising for the entity. We obviously can’t progress too much without a substantial amount of government funding and we’re also looking for private funding.”

“Originally I was hoping we could break ground in our centennial year,” she added. “I would be delighted if we could lock in on the funding this year or early next year and break ground next summer.”

The plans are for the Global Innovation Exchange, a four-storey 250,000 sq. ft. building to be built in the footprint of St. Michael’s. The blueprints presented show one 1000-seat auditorium along with several 75 and 150-seat lecture halls. Over 100 faculty offices are proposed for the east wing of the building and an accessible green roof terrace area.

The school of business and economics (SBE) and the math department will be housed in the facility. Local tech companies and a bistro-type eatery could inhabit parts of the ground floor. Dybenko noted that local firms have expressed interest in the creation of such a place. “In the city there is no place where people can sit down and have a drink and just do some scheming around a particular idea,” she said.

Assistant VP of physical resources Gary Nower explained that the centre of the building would feature a large central atrium for people to gather. “The atrium is a big open space with a living wall and open upstairs all the way around. There’s lots of usable space for events and studying.”

There is a possibility of a pedestrian overpass over University Ave. as well as other measures to accompany the increase in people crossing the street.
Nower said the overpass as well as altering the streetscape have been the subject of talks with city and Waterloo Region. “The region, I think they’re okay with traffic calming,” he said. “It certainly will have lots of trees and landscaping and traffic calming. Their argument is that we’ve got to get a certain number of cars down this busy regional road and our argument is that we’ve got a thousand students an hour crossing.”

The Campus Learning Commons is a proposed 190,000 sq. ft. structure that would connect to the Fred Nichols Campus Centre and Concourse spanning the area currently taken up by the Solarium and Health Services building, which would both be demolished. In addition to the common areas and services, the interior would eventually include the library, moved from its current location, student services, the bookstore and other services.

The two developments, projected to take a few years to complete if given the go-ahead according to Nower, would form the centerpiece of Laurier’s Waterloo campus. “It’s a priority with us so we took it to the province in December and showed them this,” he said. “We brought the two buildings in really close to really let people know that this is Laurier and you’re on our campus now. We want to take the street and make it part of the university.”

Cameron Davidson-Pilon, a fourth-year math student was the only undergraduate student on a needs assessment committee created during the envisioning process. “Is it plausible? Definitely,” he said. “It’s supposed to be the center piece of Laurier, a showcase,” he said, referring to the Global Innovation Exchange, which seems slated first for development.

“They’ll have all their big conferences there so they’ll want to make it very inviting to guests.”

After he was allowed his input on behalf of math students, Davidson-Pilon gave his perspective on the project. “From my personal standpoint I’m a little jealous — whatever, I’ll be an alumni I guess.”

Details such as classroom space during construction remain as do questions of the timing and source of the funds to construct the buildings, planning for which has now stretched back more than five years. In spite of all the planning, the project still lacks a price tag.

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