Photo: Simon Hayter

Ryerson’s reconstruction

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By Lori Fazari

To the east, on Church Street, the crumbling asphalt of a parking lot, thick with the smell of exhaust. To the west, an abandoned building off Victoria Street with weeds growing along its sides, the dirty glass of its front door revealing neglected, scratched floors.

Ian Hamilton probably doesn’t see these things on the way to his office on the south side of campus. The director of campus planning and facilities is too focused on the future to not get a gleam in his eyes as he walks east on Gould Street to the two-floor brick building at 111 Bond St., the headquarters for all things concerning Ryerson’s buildings and security.

On this day, a late Friday afternoon, he carries poster-sized architects’ sketches of floor plans and building models. They resemble little more than lines and circles on a page to the untrained eye. It takes an eye for the future to see a spiralling tower where the cars once parked, glass and concrete renovating the once-neglected building, classes and offices and labs where there once was nothing.

Ryerson, you could say, is obsessed with building. Building postgraduate that extend the possibilities of its applied programs. Building a network of donors to support the university. Building a reputation as a university unlike any other in the province. This is the building of worth and value and respect.

The building Ian Hamilton is obsessed with is more concrete. It’s of foundations and bricks and glass. It’s of sketched he carries to his office as the man in charge of Ryerson’s building, those that have been here for years and those that are still just a vision.

People at all levels of the institution share this vision for the future. Maybe not students, who are too busy in their limited time here to think about what might be. Their professors though, they see it, as do the people who work beyond the classrooms’ walls, the deans and administrators who must plan for what’s to come.

Ryerson Polytechnic University is undergoing a massive redevelopment worth more than $100-million, the scale of which this downtown campus has never seen. In the five city blocks from Victoria to Mutual and Gerrard to Dundas Streets, three new buildings will go up and two more will be renovated. Because this is such a small campus, concrete and dirt, shovels and scaffolds will soon be everywhere you look.

The development means a lot to the campus and the people within its walls. Although it may not go far enough to solve the crowding in classrooms and offices, and the challenges of undertaking five projects at once in an overheated construction market are great, each architect’s vision is set to come to life.

First though, come the sketches Hamilton carries into his roomy office, with proposals, reports and pictures of buildings covering the round table in the middle. A civil engineer by training, with a master’s in business administration, Hamilton is a facilities manager, the person who oversees the campus departments that keep the lights on, the heat running and the walls painted.

With everyone’s eyes looking toward the future, Hamilton’s job has evolved since he began here in April, 1998, when his role was to maintain what was already on campus. Now it’s about creating something new.

Last February, Ryerson found out it scored a $54-million windfall from the province’s SuperBuild spending spree. The school proposed, and was approved for, three projects under the $20-billion partnership between the government and the private sector to improve the province’s infrastructure. Colleges and universities must complete their SuperBuild projects by 2003 to help deal with the strain placed on them when students from Grades 12 and 13 graduate together because the high school curriculum is being shortened to four years from five.

The largest of Ryerson’s developments will spring up on the parking lot at the corner of Church and Gould Streets, a $65-million Centre for Computing and Engineering with space for 2,200 students in programs such as computer and electrical engineering, computer science and aerospace engineering. On June 1, Ryerson announced news that briefly turned the engineering building’s focus from first-class learning facility to Toronto landmark: Renowned architect Santiago Calatrava was signed on to design the 22,557-square-metre building.

The $11.86-million Centre for Graphic Communications Management will be built on the Bond Street parking lot just north of the campus planning office, beside a Greek Orthodox church. The 2,802-square-metres GCM building will make room for another 360 students in the program.

The final SuperBuild project fits the province’s mandate of aligning university and college programs. The Ryerson/George Brown Centre for Studies in Community Health will be built as a two-floor addition to the top of Eric Palin Hall, at 87 Gerrard St. E. The $21.24-million addition will house 1,000 more students for both institutions.

These teaching facilities aren’t the only things going up on campus. Ryerson’s board of governors recently approved the renovation and expansion of the empty building by Lake Devo at 297 Victoria St., and $8.3-million project that will house Ryerson’s continuing education division. And after years of false starts, an $11-million student centre is in the works for the site between Oakham and O’Keefe houses. This is on top of what’s already underway on the southwest border of campus, where crews are set to start building a Times Square-inspired movie theatre and entertainment complex as part of the Yonge-Dundas redevelopment.

When Ryerson’s programs and departments start to move into their new facilities, the space left behind will be renovated and reorganized so other programs can expand.

The development will help the school deal with a shortage of space on campus. There’s more to it than that, though. This construction boom is also about renewal, about proving this school deserves the cachet of being known as a first-class place to learn and teach. It won’t give Ryerson all the space it needs, but the redevelopment chips away at the problem.

“We want this change,” Hamilton says. “We don’t see anything stopping us from getting these projects up there.”

While the development falls under the portfolio of Ryerson’s v.p. administration and students affairs, Linda Grayson, Hamilton can be seen as the person who brings the school officials and buildings together. The school’s senior executives look to him for answers to building questions, and he is in touch with everyone working for Ryerson on the redevelopment.

It would be a considerable task to build one building. Hamilton is overseeing five projects at once. “This level of building, I haven’t personally ween it since the 1980s,” he says.

That was back in the latter part of the decade when the economy was on a roll, back when Hamilton was manager of properties for the town of Vaughan, which was becoming the City of Vaughan and hence needed new libraries, community centres, arenas and parks.

From there he moved to the City of Toronto, working as manager of facility planning, design and construction from 1991 to 1993, then as director of property operations until 1996, placing him in the thick of planning for the city’s amalgamation.

The politics of working for municipal government, and extensive travel, prompted him leave for a one-year stint at a company that manages the CBC’s buildings, right before he came to Ryerson.

Hamilton can’t even remember how many buildings he’s seen built over his career: “Maybe 20ish?” he says with a shrug.

This is why he nonchalantly flips his hand at the thought of Ryerson’s five projects and jokes, “Ah, we could handle a new building a month.”

They couldn’t, but Hamilton says building, no matter how many projects at once, is all about the processes. If you follow the rules, the vision will begin to gel and the people and ideas will start to come together, which is the stage the university is at right now.

Of all the work, by far the most important is the planning done before a shovel ever hits the ground. That’s because it’s far quicker and cheaper to change things on paper than it is to alter the course of a construction project already underway.

The challenges of building such diverse projects on a small campus are immense. The first process is the planning stage, where the architects’ vision must be shaped to fit the building’s function. Civil and aerospace engineering students need structural and testing labs. GCM students need printing facilities. Continuing education instructors need office space.

The amount of planning to come will take anywhere until next spring for the three-storey GCM building, to months later for the engineering building. Project managers hired to oversee each development, acting as a liaison between the university and outside companies, must ensure that bylaws surrounding zoning, parking, lighting, landscaping and the like are met before the city approves a building permit. Once that’s in hand, Ryerson can enter the tendering stage to pick a contractor who will oversee the construction phase. The project managers will still be around once the facilities are built to make sure the lights are on and each department moves in smoothly.

One principle guides project managers thought it all: schedule, scope and budget.

“That’s the project manager’s mottos,” says Lawrence Quinn, who has been working at the school since January. Quinn came back to Ryerson, where he graduated in 1983 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, to oversee the SuperBuild developments on campus, making him one of four managers who report to Hamilton within the campus planning and facilities office.

The guiding faith of a project manager dictates that the construction must be completed on time, September, 2003, in Ryerson’s case, when the double cohort of students arrives.

The construction must fulfill its intended scope. At Ryerson, the goal is to accept more than 3,000 more students, as promised to the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, which awarded SuperBuild funding to postsecondary institutions across the province.

The project must also be on budget, the biggest of the three concerns right now, Quinn says. “We have to be sure that what we design now is accurately costed in an upwardly moving construction market.

“You can’t go back for more money, and you can’t not finish a building.”

Once all the construction crews move their forklifts and jackhammers to campus, getting around will be very difficult. “Very few campuses are so intimately knit with the surrounding city neighbourhood,” says Mark Sterling of Sterling Finlayson Architects, who has walked the campus many times since being hired in June ,1999 to consult on the development.

Although space is being freed up from the basement of Jorgenson Hall to the top floor of the Rogers Communications Centre, with Ryerson using almost all empty land it has available, the only place left to grow is up or outside the borders of campus.

“We’re very much hamstrung by the size of this university,” says Steven Liss, who has been at the university 13 years, and is now the associate dean of graduate studies, research and development in the faculty of engineering and applied science. Liss is helping the develop master’s programs that will eventually be housed in the computing and engineering building.

“This type of growth is unprecedented for the university ,” Liss says, “but at the end of the day, I think we fall short.”

Although more students will be on campus, no new space has been proposed for residences. And all postsecondary institutions are feeling the pressure of meeting the ministry’s requirements to increase space and enrolment by 2003.

For someone like Hamilton, these challenges represent opportunities to think for the future. “He’s got very good long-term strategic planning skills,” Quinn says.

Like building blocks, Hamilton already sees the next phase in the evolution of this campus, tied into the city’s big to host the 2008 Olympic Games. “I have all the confidence that Ryerson will be part of the Olympics,” he says. “We could possibly house athletes or training facilities for athletes.”

Propped against the wall of his office are the poster-sized drawings of floor plans and building exteriors for the GCM facility. He points to the view of the building’s west side, seeing something more than the circles and lines on the page. “That’s all glass curtain wall,” he says. “That would be brick.”

To the students who will fill it, the building represents a place to learn. For their professors, it’s a place to teach and do research.

Hamilton sees the buildings as the meldings of these visions. “If we plan it right, we should not have any problems,” he says. “It all build, one thing on the next.”

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