It may not look like it from the outside, but Western’s iconic University College is in the middle of a major overhaul.
Built in 1922, University College was one of the first buildings to grace Western’s campus and is currently home to the Faculty of Arts & Humanities’ more than 1,200 students. While there have been a few upgrades and additions to the building over the years, most notably in the 1960s, much of the interior has stayed exactly the same as it was when it was first constructed in the early 1920s – that is, until now.
“After 90 years, the building was run down and the infrastructure was in need of repair,” said Michael Milde, dean of Arts & Humanities. “We have a real commitment to creating student space, which was lacking in the former configuration, and we want to upgrade all of the services in the building to bring it into the 21st Century and, generally, to allow for a lot more light, to open it up and make it far more accessible.”
A $34-million renovation project that began in June of 2016 will see a complete replacement of electrical, plumbing, fire and HVAC systems, as well as a modernization and re-configuration of the building’s interior space. The building’s exterior architecture and historically significant features – such as the iconic tower – will be retained, as well as a number of historical elements on the interior.
Conron Hall, for example, which was first built to act as a convocation hall but became far too small by the early 1930s, will not be touched, save for an upgrade to its audio-visual systems. The original 1922 terrazzo floors remain intact throughout and will be matched in places where the floor needs to be replaced. A time capsule, which was placed in the building’s date stone brick when the construction of the building was finished, has not been disturbed.
For Fred Janzen, University College renovation project manager, while the infrastructure and systems update is important, it’s the modernization that will make the biggest impact on students.
“One of the first things we noticed when we were in the building, watching students use the space was there were a lot of people sitting on the floor with their backpacks and laptops – we’re trying to make spaces so that they don’t have to do that anymore,” said Janzen. “Common space is a big deal here. On the inside, it’s about creating spaces for students. That’s what it’s all about.”
In addition to carving out common spaces where students can comfortably study and share ideas, an atrium will be created looking out onto the picturesque Beryl Ivey Garden.
The project will also improve accessibility, increase and improve elevator service and provide easier access to different floors and parts of the building. The renovation is scheduled to wrap up in the summer of 2018, in time for classes to resume in the fall.
“The sense of bringing everything up to current standards shows that Arts & Humanities is not, somehow, mired in the past, but we’re keeping abreast with contemporary developments,” said Milde. “It’s a reminder that Arts & Humanities is at the heart of the university, that the things we do are central to the university’s mission and, indeed, to maintaining a civilized society.”
Western is launching a social media campaign Mar. 9 asking students, faculty, staff and alumni to share photos and memories about University College using the hashtag #myUC. In mid-March, Western will also begin a fundraising campaign in support of the ongoing renovations. For more information, or to support this project, visit westernconnect.ca/uc-renovation.