Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) has postponed the opening of the University Centre building until the end of the 2018-19 school year due to construction delays, according to an Aug. 14 Facebook post. The construction, which began on March 17, was initially scheduled to be completed by the winter of 2018, with Gerts Campus Bar opening in September followed by the rest of the building in December. However, underestimates of the time needed to remove contaminants have caused the expected opening to be pushed back until the summer.
“We were under the impression that the building was on the original timeline until shortly before our update on August 14th,” Tre Mansdoerfer, SSMU President, wrote in an email to the The McGill Tribune. “There was more hazardous material in the building [than] was originally anticipated.”
The building was closed to allow for the replacement of the heating and ventilation system after the discovery of traces of asbestos. Asbestos, a construction material commonly used during the 1950s and 60s, has been linked to numerous lung conditions when its fibres are inhaled in large quantities. The building will also be equipped with improved electrical distribution, an additional washroom, and various other upgrades.
The University Centre is leased through McGill, which is responsible for the repairs and has been in communication with SSMU throughout the duration of the project.
“Construction on a leased property falls under the control of the lessor,” Mansdoerfer wrote. “Both McGill’s project management team and contractors are responsible for the building repairs. We’ve been in contact with the contractors for the project throughout the summer, they updated us on the timeline in early August, and we subsequently updated the student body.”
The construction delays pose challenges for the 19 clubs that were forced to relocate ahead of the University Centre’s initial closure. Many were moved to spaces on Robert-Bourassa Boulevard and Peel Street, where they will remain for the duration of the construction period. However, clubs that require specific equipment and ample space to function are now encountering issues resuming regular activity.
“For general space needs, we’ve been working with the building directors of Athletics facilities and Residence Halls,” Mansdoerfer wrote. “Science Undergraduate Society, Management Undergraduate Society, Engineering Undergraduate Society, and Arts Undergraduate Society will be providing space to SSMU clubs at specified times during the year. Through the Deputy Provost office, we are booking available classrooms for club usage. We are also in conversations with McGill on getting additional permanent space for clubs/student groups on campus.”
For smaller organizations such as the McGill Plate Club, a student group which aims to promote sustainability by loaning reusable eating utensils on campus, the delays have created inconveniences to their regular functioning.
“Our core ability to function as an event plate rental service has only been slightly disrupted, since we are fortunate to have been assigned temporary storage space,” a representative of the Plate Club wrote to the Tribune. “Since our user base extends beyond SSMU groups, usage has been sustained even if this one sector is holding less events as a consequence of the building closure. I do feel that the loss of a central student space will put a damper on undergraduate student life in general.”
Meanwhile, for bigger groups such as the Players’ Theatre, which was evicted in February and requires a large space to operate, the move has been particularly difficult. Nonetheless, Cheyenne Cranston, Executive Director of the Players’ Theater, remains optimistic about the community’s ability to function despite the delays.
“After meeting with SSMU, it is clear that they are doing everything in their power to assist the clubs and services that have been impacted by the building closure,” Cranston wrote in an email to the Tribune. “There’s an old saying in theatre that says, ‘The show must go on!’ and we plan to follow this saying. While acquiring a theatre space through SSMU would be ideal, we’ll perform in someone’s living room if we have to.”