Renos to reveal long-hidden beauty of University College

Illustration by Tillmann Ruth Robinson

The focus of the $34-million overhaul of University College will shift to exterior changes starting next month, as work looks to restore the beauty of one of Western’s original buildings, including a newly refurbished Beryl Ivey Garden, below.

The $34-million overhaul of University College started from the inside out. And as of next month, with a lull in foot and vehicle traffic on campus, the exterior changes to the iconic Western building will start to take shape.

The stained-glass windows of Conron Hall will be more of a focal point. The Beryl Ivey Garden will be refurbished. A new reading garden will be added on the east side of the building. Lighting surrounding University College will be improved to showcase its grandeur. In-ground light bunkers, inoperable for years on account of overgrown trees, will once again be exposed. Landscaping will change. Some trees will come down; others will be preserved.

All these changes are meant to restore and reflect not only the beauty of one of Western’s original buildings, but also showcase the university’s focus on pedestrian-friendly and student-oriented spaces, said Fred Janzen, University College renovation project manager.

“It’s very poorly-lit. Some trees there are overgrown and in decline; we are going to remove seven of the existing trees and replant with lower gardens that will allow the building to do what it did architecturally, back in the 1920s, when it was first designed,” he noted.

The front of the building will also feature new seating space for students to relax and look out from the top of the hill, he added. The gingko tree (the first planted at the site) will be preserved, along with several others, particularly donor trees planted in memoriam of members of the Western community.

Lighting will be added to showcase the tower, with lights inside the soon-to-be-replaced windows and the small windows on the tower itself. There will be better flag lighting, and the crew is adding rear lighting to the stained glass of Conron Hall which will, of course, remain.

All of this will highlight the historical beauty of University College, some of which has been hidden for years.

Beyond the landscape changes and lighting additions, the front of the building will be more pedestrian-friendly, Janzen continued. There will be improved sidewalks and useable outdoor space incorporated across the front of the building, including some space currently used for parking.

“The point of what we’re trying to do in the front is make it more people-friendly,” Janzen continued. The renovation crew is working with landscape architects, Facilities Management and the campus community as a whole, keeping in mind the principles of the university’s Open Space and Landscape Plan.

“One of the main principles of the Open Space and Landscape Plan is to prioritize pedestrian spaces and encourage accessibility throughout the campus,” added Mike McLean of Facilities Management. “We want to maximize connectivity and accessibility by providing clear, efficient routes that are safe for travel, well-lit and put pedestrians first before vehicles.

“What we’ll see in front of University College is a more pedestrian-friendly environment. We are still working through the details on that but anticipate to have them in place and execute on design in time for re-opening, scheduled for summer 2018.”

The renderings of what all of these changes may look like, provided by Architects Tillmann Ruth Robinson of London, are just a suggestion of what’s possible, McLean added. The interior renovations will create new learning opportunities and new communal spaces, while retaining the tradition of the original structure, the exterior lighting and landscape enhancements are an extension of those objectives.

All of these changes, along with the interior updates and restorations inside, reflect the university’s commitment to the Faculty of Arts & Humanities, said Michael Milde, dean of the faculty, currently home to some 1,200 students.

“As the faculty is working to shape itself for the 21st century and make itself as relevant and attractive to students as possible, the renovation certainly is very helpful because it will bring the building up to standard in terms of classrooms and technology,” Milde noted.

“But most especially, what’s telling is there’s going to be a lot of student-oriented space for students to work, hang out, socialize and work together – something never available in the building before.”

All of the heritage features that make University College the iconic, loved, recognizable building on campus will be preserved and restored, he added, which current and future students can enjoy for years to come. Milde is particularly pleased with the efforts the renovation crew has taken to preserve the building’s original terrazzo flooring, including finding a company to match the flooring and install it in the building’s additions from the 1960s, where that flooring didn’t exist.

“The news isn’t always good for Arts & Humanities. This is a boost and a sign of the university’s commitment to the faculty,” he said.