Ryerson races to beat the buzzer on Gardens renovation

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By Vanessa Greco

Ryerson doesn’t have much time to celebrate their joint ownership of the historic Maple Leaf Gardens.

The school has just over a year to convert one of Toronto’s most iconic buildings into a multi-functional athletic and recreation facility. The Gardens renovation is part of Canada’s Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, which means the project’s deadline is March 31, 2011.

“They assured me that they can get it done in that period of time and they’ve showed me the plan,” said Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

Now that the government has chipped in the final third of funding, it’s Ryerson’s responsibility to breathe new life into the Gardens. Part of the school’s vision involves a passageway leading to the site. The building itself might house a student coffee shop and academic programs alongside the planned athletics facilities.

Galen Weston, executive chairman of Loblaw Companies Ltd., said the new Gardens will be a place where students can “lift a few weights” and “do a little shopping at a Loblaws store.”

In the next few weeks Ryerson executives will start thinking of which academic programs could fit in the Gardens, said Alan Shepard, provost and vice-president academic.

The decision to mix academics with athletics is an attempt to draw more foot traffic to the Gardens, said President Sheldon Levy, adding that the building is for the entire Ryerson community, not just varsity athletes.

One of the ways Levy would like to incorporate the landmark building with the rest of campus is paving a passageway from Ryerson to the Gardens. The path could wind around the theatre building and cut through McGill and Granby streets.

To make the school’s brand more noticeable en route to the Gardens, the school has considered more signage and distinctive landscaping.

“I could see us doing a type of landscaping that is a signature Ryerson landscaping that gets to the building easily,” said Levy. “As important as what goes in there is how to draw people to the place.”

Around exam time, Ryerson students could find themselves sitting under the Gardens’ historic rafters instead of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre’s florescent lighting.

Despite Ryerson’s push to make the Gardens home, the school intends to preserve the building’s signage.

“The building is Maple Leaf Gardens and Maple Leaf Gardens will stay, said Levy.

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