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Image Arts opens doors to students

After more than two years of anticipation, students are moving into the partially completed Image Arts building this week. But, amid the rush to open up and meet the Oct. 11 deadline, some are left wondering whether the move is really doing students good. News Editors Mariana Ionova and Rebecca Burton report

After a fourteen-month delay, the Image Arts building is finally open but the phased-in move is likely to leave students scattered until at least the beginning of next semester.

Parts of the first and second floor of the newly-renovated building opened Oct. 11 but only faculty and administrative staff have moved in at this point.

“The photo studio might come on line [this] week. We’re hoping it will. And all the other classrooms — of which there are a few mainly in the basement and on the third floor — will come online in a staggered way as soon as we can,” said Alex Anderson, interim chair of the School of Image Arts. “But the actual heart of the building, the Cage, won’t come on line till after this semester in January.”

The building’s Atrium and the student pods lining the north side of the building are also opening this week. The university has rented soft furnishings for the lounge areas until the sofas it ordered arrive in November. The rest of the production facilities, including the 11.3-foot photography studio, will be opening gradually over the next few weeks, according to Anderson.

But, the partial move-in would mean that students would still have their facilities scattered on campus, which has been a headache for some students like first-year film student Justin Gray.

“My experience has been more of a nuisance, to be honest,” said Gray. “We’re scuttling between the VIC cages and the library.”

Konstantino Kapetaneas, a third-year new media student, thinks the arrangement is “sort of weird” but he said he agrees it’s better to wait until January to move the equipment to the new building.

“It makes sense for the Cage not to move until next semester because we need the equipment now and there’s quite a bit of stuff that they need to transfer from one building to the other building during the semester,” said Kapetaneas. “So it would be really bad for students to do it in the middle of the semester.”

Although the building is not quite ready to be open, Ryerson President Sheldon Levy said that, after so many delays, the university’s priority was just to start moving the school back in the building.

“Well, we were trying to open last October. It was just so over,” Levy said. “We were just pushing to because the students and the faculty deserved nothing less than us doing our best to be able to get it ready for them.”

The project was riddled with problems since it officially began in 2007, when Ryerson decided to undertake an $8.2 million renovation of the old building. In October of that year, the university found out the land surrounding the old building was owned by the city, which meant Ryerson had to negotiate a land swap before it could begin building. The university also had to seek permission from the city to cut all the trees around the old building in order to expand outward, which took months of negotiations.

“A huge amount of that stuff had to go on before you could even break ground,” Levy said. “All of that, which no one was seeing, took a year to do.”

Even more issues followed once construction began in May 2009. That year, 700 undergraduate students and 150 graduate students were moved to the Victoria building and the Rogers Communication Centre (RCC) and the renovation officially began.

But, as the project advanced, problems with large amounts of asbestos in the walls emerged, which halted construction and forced the university to bring in a team to clear out the hazardous material.

Last summer, just months before the building was set to reopen, it became apparent that the heating, cooling and ventilation systems were too old and had to be replaced, which pushed back the deadline more than 12 months. By that time, the project had grown from an $8.2 million upgrade to the old building to a full-blown redesign project with a $70.95 million budget.

Julia Hanigsberg, vice-president finance and administration, said the complications and delays were mostly due to the fact that the old structural plans for the Image Arts building — which dated back to when it was constructed as a brewery —were inaccurate, which caused unexpected problems and slowed down construction.

“[There were] lots of unforeseen site conditions…around the construction site itself and the building itself that were not predicted in advance and couldn’t have been predicted,” Hanigsberg said. “I mean, we had the old plans for it but they were obviously not that accurate, so we were faced with things we had to fix that we never predicted getting into. And each one of those things added time.”

Hanigsberg also said many of the challenges arose because the original building was old and not constructed for the purposes of a gallery, said Hanigsberg.

“It’s been a really difficult project,” Hanigsberg said. “You know, we had a building that was an old building already, purpose-built as a brewery that we’ve been using as an academic building — it had never been meant for that. We decided to renovate it to make it into a gallery and a modern academic building. And you know, it’s very, very tough.”

Hanigsberg said that, looking back, tearing down the building would have probably been easier and would have sped up construction.

“Demolition — demolition, baby. I mean, Sheldon says it tongue-in-cheek-but-not-really, ‘remind me never to make a brewery into a gallery again,’” she said.

Both Levy and Hanigsberg said they were relieved to finally see the building open after the long wait. But Hanigsberg said she regrets that students who graduated last spring could not take advantage of the new facilities.

“[I]f you ask me honestly how I feel — amazingly disappointed that students who should have been in here haven’t had a chance to enjoy this building,” Hanigsberg said. “So I think the question is, how do we make alumni feel really welcome, how do we allow the people who have been here during this time still feel really welcome.”

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