Behind scaffolding and dust

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A university desperate for space. A building neglected for years. Online Editor Emma Prestwich looks at the history and future at 111 Gerrard

The block-like building, its concrete buckling in spots, hides from Gerrard Street East, the front wrapped in a sheet of scaffolding and green canvas. The metal structure shelters pedestrians, who only glance at the building as they speed past with their umbrellas.

A blue sign above the ground floor of 111 Gerrard St. East still reads “Gerrard Copy Centre,” but white blinds hide the interior and a small, paper sign stuck to the window tells visitors the copy centre is permanently closed. To the left is a dank stairwell that reeks of urine and syrupy brown windows show empty graduate study suites. It keeps raining, people walk by, and the building gathers more dust.

This is the most northeast building in Ryerson’s campus collection, a tired old toy the school bought in 2001 and mostly forgot. The administration mentions it occasionally when the school talks new projects, most recently in discussions over a location for the planned $56.4 million applied health sciences building.

The site has come up in President Sheldon Levy’s Master Plan, an ambitious framework for the school’s development. Students from the School of Urban and Regional Planning proposed development for three sites on campus, including 111 Gerrard. However, Levy says it might be a long time before that site is developed, which would involve demolishing the building.

“It’s just called money. I mean, if money wasn’t such a problem, we would have rebuilt that area a long time ago,” Levy said. If 111 Gerrard isn’t used as the location for the new health sciences building, there aren’t any further plans for the site.

In the past 10 years, the 40,000 square-foot building has housed only a little-used copy centre, graduate study suites and a modern literature research centre. But the deteriorating block of concrete has a rich history.

Built in the early 1950s, 111 Gerrard has housed a printing company, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) offices, several restaurants and an English-language school. Before Ryerson bought the building, the previous owner, Peter Teoh, also rented out third-floor suites to students.

Shane Dingman, a Ryerson graduate, rented a room from Teoh in 1996 in his first year. He said he moved in because he wasn’t accepted into residence and the setup of the suites at 111 Gerrard, with a shared kitchen and bathroom, looked similar.

“It did not turn out to be quite like a dorm,” he said. The building was dingy. The carpet looked ancient. There were cockroaches.

The third floor, according to Dingman, consisted of an O-shaped hallway, flanked on either side by a number of offices turned into apartments. He lived with two Ryerson engineering students and a number of Chinese students, many of whom attended Dominion College on the second floor.

The rooms on the inside of the third-floor hallway were windowless, and some lived in a room only big enough to fit two junior-size mattresses. He still questions the quality of the building: “I look back and I’m like, how did this place not get condemned?”

Paul Cheevers, a Ryerson graduate who was the real estate agent for Teoh when the owner decided to sell in 2001, also said the building was in poor condition.“It was fairly worn, not a lot of money had been put into it over the years.” Cheevers was a student union president during his degree and ran for the board of governors as an alumni member in the years after the sale. “Because of my history with Ryerson I approached Ryerson and it made a lot of sense for them,” he said.

The university paid $1.59 million for the building in 2001, citing plans to use the site for future development. Vice-president administration and finance Julia Hanigsberg said the move made sense because it was next to 101 Gerrard, which the school already owned and ran as a co-operative education office. “The two buildings would create an opportunity for a more significant development footprint,” she said in an email interview. Hanigsberg’s predecessor, Linda Grayson, was the signing officer on the sale.

Cheevers said the purchase was a wise move. “It wouldn’t take a genius to figure out that you combine those two sites and you’ve got a real potential development site there,” he said.

After buying the building, the school allowed the two existing restaurants, Mother’s Taste and Som Thai, to keep operating. Dominion

College moved to another location after 111 Gerrard was sold. In 2005, the Ontario Ministry of Education revoked Dominion’s credit-granting license.

While Ryerson may have been strategic in buying 111 Gerrard, it isn’t clear how the school used the site immediately after purchase. Cheevers said he was told the school used the space as a project office to stage other construction projects. The sale summary from Lennard Commercial Realty, where Cheevers is the vice president, reads that Ryerson planned to use the office portion, which housed the copy centre for several years, for “its own business purposes” and then use the rest of the space as a research facility. “Ryerson has always had a challenge with far too less space,” said Cheevers.

The building still sits half-empty and the school has no concrete plans for re-development. The Gerrard Copy Centre opened four years ago to try to capture the business of students taking classes in Sally Horsfall Eaton Centre and Eric Palin Hall, said University Business Services manager John Corallo. The centre had high-top counters and seats as well as wireless internet, so students could use it as a study space. The copy centre shut down a couple of years ago because there wasn’t enough business. “It wasn’t doing that well,” he said. “I guess students were getting their printing needs somewhere else.” Since its closure, the space has been empty, except for a short period this September when the facility was used to make first-year students’ OneCards.

To the leftmost corner of the building is a locked door solely open to those with access to the research and graduate study department and suites. Early on a Friday afternoon, only one person is using it. International economics graduate student Alem Yallwe, who is visiting from Italy, often uses the space to study, but said the only other students he sees are a handful of civil engineers. “There are very few students,” he said.

In another room are lockers, a foul-smelling fridge and a coffee pot crusted with old brew. Doctorate student Hakan Toksoy uses the study room all the time, but wishes it was cleaner. “I feel it’s a kind of left-out place,” he said.

Even students who take classes across the street from 111 Gerrard aren’t sure how the building is being used. “I have no clue”, said Jenna Nightingale, a third-year nursing student.

In August of this year, CP24 reported that pieces of concrete fell 10 metres from the building, and a part of the sidewalk was closed off. Scott Dobin, a research assistant in the Modern Literature and Culture Centre, a Ryerson graduate research centre housed in the building, remembered the day the pieces of concrete fell. He sits in the Victorian-inspired conference room. He was told to stay away for a few days. Two months later, scaffolding still frames the building, raising questions about the building’s stability.

Cheevers said the site is worth much more than when Ryerson first bought it. “Ryerson does have to look at growth well before the fact, and it’s lucky in this case they did, because they now have a very good development site, and the value of that site has now increased multiple times over since it was acquired,” he said.

But as well as monetary value, the building has a colourful story, one still hidden behind the tall scaffolding and dust.

Correction: The Eyeopener mistakenly reported that Paul Cheevers ran for the board of governors as an alumni member in the years after Ryerson bought 111 Gerrard St., when in fact he sat on the board at the time the sale closed.

 

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