James Square – The Last Metal Handrails on Campus

Off the Board/Opinion by

When I arrived at McGill, many years ago, things were a lot different. New Rez was new, students were lobbying against tuition increases, and the administration didn’t feel the need to dig giant holes in order to make me three minutes late to every class. Since that time, things have changed a bit. There’s a new-new-new-new rez, Molson stadium has been expanded (don’t worry, there’s still only one winning team in there), and everywhere I look on campus people are digging holes.

Late in my first year, McGill undertook a project just west of the Milton gates and south of the James administration building, to change a lovely little bee-line from the gates to the Arts building into a “greenspace.” I heard they were also rebuilding the secret tunnel Heather Munroe-Blum and Morton Mendelson use to sneak to Arch Cafe. This two-year project resulted in a lot of jackhammering, little visible change, and a total of 17 extra kilometers of walking for me – according to my pedometer.

Upon the project’s completion, the new “greenspace” was re-opened to the public. I can only assume it’s called greenspace due to the amount of green McGill spent on it. Just last May, the Milton Gates were auctioned off on eBay in an effort to pay for the ordeal. Thanks to Montreal’s weather, it’s really whitespace for the majority of the year.

With the new school year came a number of upsetting choices by the administration, including the closure of Arch Cafe, serious discussion of actually increasing tuition, disassociation of the university with its students – in order to protect the McGill Swoosh, and the purchasing of my apartment as the new-new-new-new-new rez. Little did I know the worst was yet to come.

One September day, when I was on my way home from somewhere, likely my boycott of the food services boycott, I strolled through the whitespace, only to discover that where there had formerly been smooth metal hand rails, there were now wooden two-by-fours bolted into the rail-frames. I was slowed by five seconds on that trip – time I usually saved by sliding down the rails. While inconvenient, I figured this was not a permanent change, and that the slippery, polished metal rails would be back in time.

Now it’s November. The rails still aren’t back. It seems like the decision to switch out the metal in favor of wood was a permanent one. Perhaps they sold the rails to fund the renovation of the Arts building, or bring the Arch Cafe coffee that the administration loves so much back to the office. Either way, the move to get rid of the rails is, in my opinion, the most disgusting, heartless move made by the administration this year. I challenge anyone to give me one way in which wooden hand rails are better than their metal counter parts. Additionally, this move gave wooden rails a stairway-monopoly on campus, driving all metal-railed staircases out of operation.

The worst part about this decision was that, as a frequent user of the whitespace, I was not consulted when the decision was made to get rid of the metal rails. The manner in which the administration made this decision was entirely disrespectful and ignorant of student interest. I would only consider it more insulting if the metal rails were not brought back, and students are not consulted In future decisions of this nature. As the largest single-group using the space, it seems like we should have a say in what goes into making this whitespace our very own.

Thanks a lot McGill. Thanks for slowing me down, making my trip across campus less enjoyable, and making me have to pick bits of wood from my palm as I sit in class every day. In the series of offensive moves made by the higher-ups at our institution, this is the worst of the worst, and I for one, won’t take it. I’m boycotting the whitespace, purposefully walking a route around it – until they bring back the smooth handrails. Give me back my handrails McGill. The whitespace handrails were the last place on campus where I could slip and slide from a to b and, by closing them, the administration has sent a clear message to the students that this is not your whitespace, it’s theirs.