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Competition looks into St. George campus renewal

All invited to unveiling in Convocation Hall

(photo by Arthur Kwiatkowski)

The historic core of the University of Toronto will be changing – while it stays the same.

Four architect-led teams are set to unveil their strategic plans on renewing and restoring the heart of the St. George campus in a special gathering on Sept. 28 in Convocation Hall.

The general public as well as U of T students, faculty, staff, alumni and stakeholders are invited to the event, which starts at 6 p.m. and runs to 9 p.m. No registration is required.

A question and answer session follows the presentation. An exhibition will also be on view at the J. Robert S. Prichard Alumni House at 21 King’s College Circle during the remainder of the week.

Consultation is an essential element of the project.

“We need to make our central campus open spaces work for the 21st-century U of T community,” said Professor Donald Ainslie, principal of University College and co-chair of the Landmark Committee overseeing the competition. “This means we need to hear from you.”

The request for qualifications issued by the Landmark Committee stresses the need for a balance of functionality and preservation. Improving the pedestrian experience is the first of eight priorities the potential bidders are instructed to keep in mind.

Others are: enhancing green space; creating animated public areas; supporting events with appropriate infrastructure; eliminating surface parking from King’s College Circle, Hart House Circle and Tower Road; limiting traffic on these roads; creating gateways and signage to improve pedestrian navigation; and allowing for discreet operation of delivery, removal and other necessary services.

Addressing accessibility is a crucial element. A pedestrian plaza outside Convocation Hall and an event space in front of the Alumni house are mentioned as desirable improvements. Matters as pragmatic as bicycle parking and as visionary as the placement and maintenance of public art fall under the aegis of the project.

Nevertheless, reconciling open spaces with a burgeoning campus population remains the main challenge, as the first weeks of classes make clear.

“Students have arrived en masse and everywhere you turn you see another demonstration of the importance of our central green spaces,” Ainslie said.

“Students have been playing pick-up Frisbee or softball on the front campus. Booths from campus groups lined Hart House Circle for the UTSU Clubs Fair during Orientation.

“Nice weather has meant that the Sir Daniel Wilson quad is a favourite spot for hanging out into the wee hours. The back-campus fields have been filled with team practices and intramural games.

“At the same time, students going to classes are crowded onto narrow sidewalks and have to take extra care to avoid cars and bicycles, leaving them unlikely to notice the important historical buildings that surround them and the messages they symbolize.”

After public feedback has been collected and considered, an evaluation committee including representatives of the Landmark Committee and university operations will choose a winning team, which will consult with the University to prepare a comprehensive design.

Scott Mabury, vice-president of university operations, is co-chair of the Landmark Committee. An announcement is expected in November.

For more information on this project go to landmark.utoronto.ca.