By Drew Halfnight
Get out your trunks and water wings — Ryerson’s heading to the beach.
In the latest attempt to head off the university’s looming space crunch, the administration will consider building a new “waterfront campus” at the foot of Jarvis Street.
With an estimated 40-75,000 additional students expected in Toronto over the next decade, campus expansion is a key issue for presidents at all three major Toronto universities.
“We know there is going to be a dramatic increase in student numbers in the GTA,” president Sheldon Levy said. “Ryerson is not a place that has the vacant lands of York or Trent. And that’s why you look to vacant lands. You look to the waterfront.”
The pipe dream plan to build residences, playing fields and cafés in the underdeveloped badlands at Jarvis Street and Lakeshore Boulevard was first mentioned in an Aug. 2 article on Macleans.ca. In that article and in a more recent interview with the Eyeopener, Levy insisted that the plan was purely speculative.
“This has not gone to the board, there’s been no discussion within the community, nothing of that nature,” he said.
Still, there is reason to believe that one of Toronto’s growing universities will acquire a waterfront campus.
Waterfront Toronto, the corporation created in 2001 to revitalize the city’s dismal lakeshore, is in the initial stages of a $17-billion development project involving 50 million square feet of new construction. That’s equal to the floor space of 25 Rogers Centres – more than enough room for a second Ryerson.
Kristin Jenkins, a spokesperson for the corporation, said they were “very interested” in building a post-secondary campus on the East Bay front land at the foot of Jarvis Street, and that they had even held discussions with Ryerson.
Jenkins said a knowledge-based school like Ryerson would make a “fabulous” complement to commercial properties on the waterfront, including the new Chorus Entertainment film studios to be built nearby.
“Some companies are moving down there that would make a nice strategic fit for the campus,” Levy told Macleans.ca, noting the area’s proximity to music and sound studios.
The notion of a university campus on the lakeshore is highly compatible with the municipality’s stated plan for “extending the city to the water’s edge.” The corporation will avoid building more skyscraper condos in favour of mixed-use development.
Jenkins said that Waterfront Toronto has had discussions with representatives from several post-secondary schools, among them Ryerson, though she would not name the other contenders. No plans have been made to award land to any particular school.
Levy maintains that the waterfront campus is “just one of many options” in dealing with the enrolment spike in the GTA. Options include buying land around the downtown campus and expanding there, Levy said, though he admitted it’s extremely dificult and expensive to do so.
Meanwhile, Waterfront Toronto says it will begin development in earnest “in the next five years, likely sooner.”
Joe Springer, a professor at Ryerson’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, says that having a larger campus leads to less interaction between students, something that’s already happening at the new business building.
“It can be more fragmented, people don’t see each other as much,” he said. “It’s a different experience.”
He agreed that building a second campus is likely inevitable, given the difficulty of expanding in Ryerson’s immediate surroundings.
“One of the things we desperately need in this campus is space. If we can find the space closer, sweet. But I suspect we’ll have to go to other areas where there are opportunities for expansion,” he said.
Toronto city planner Kathy Thom said the city pushed hard for “mixed use” zoning in the area in question. If Toronto has its way, the traditionally industrial lakefront will be rebuilt as a “commercial-residential” neighbourhood with parks and businesses.
Not surprisingly, various landowners in the area have appealed the city’s revised zoning before the Ontario Municipal Board. Thom said industrial developments in the area might not look kindly on proposed changes.