By Jennifer Ferreira
For Ryerson University students, the new school year began with one distinct change – a fresh layer of yellow paint on Gould Street.
Parts of both Gould and Victoria streets were covered in a bright yellow paint in what was just phase one of larger project intended to give the campus a much needed makeover.
Fast-forward almost five months, add a few coats of blue paint and Ryerson is now the owner of a colourful street whose paint has since chipped and faded, despite the $195,000 price tag.
Now, amidst apologies for rushed work, questions as to who will fork over the repair costs and the possibility of a new paint treatment have arisen. A confused student body has been left to make sense of the situation as the rest of the city watches.
Nevertheless, it’s clear the paint job has got people like Ward 27 Coun. Kristyn Wong-Tam talking.
“I think the [school’s] administration is just as disappointed as I am,” Wong-Tam told the Eyeopener.
“I’d imagine they’re going to look into it.” But even with the poor result, Wong-Tam commended the university for its ambitious plans to revamp the school’s pedestrian space.
“I’m confident Ryerson had the right strategic thinking,” Wong-Tam said, calling the idea “quite extraordinary.”
“I’m pleased to know that Ryerson will not dream small,” she said.
Others like Mark Van Elsberg, project manager for pedestrian projects for the city of Toronto, also praised the university on its efforts to add a more visual component to its urban campus.
“It’s really an amazing way to transform people’s perception of a roadway,” Van Elsberg told the Eyeopener. “Ryerson is a real leader for showing innovation.”
The design, which included blue pathways shaped like rivers leading to various buildings on campus, acts as a tribute to Taddle Creek, a waterway that once travelled through the city long ago.
But Van Elsberg also acknowledged the difficulty that often comes with working with paint.
“It’s hard to say where the adhesion issues stem from,” he said about the blue epoxy paint, which is meant to prevent deterioration and avoid dirt build-up. “While it could be because the paint sticks better to older or newer asphalt, the rough weather Toronto’s been having certainly hasn’t helped.”
Christopher De Sousa, Ryerson’s director for the School of Urban and Regional Planning, also agreed that painting a road is “not an easy thing to do,” but said that people need to focus more on the positive aspects of the situation rather than the negative ones.
“I thought [painting the roads] was a pretty good thing,” De Sousa said. “Finally people are starting to know we’re marking a space.”
De Sousa said that this relates to what he feels is a historical problem Ryerson has faced for many years ﹘ a lack of distinction of the university’s place in downtown Toronto. He said that it needs to establish itself as a place students can truly call home. This is something that De Sousa believes is especially important for those who commute to the university.
“Urban schools have this challenge – how do you make it a campus?” Christopher Hume, the Toronto Star’s urban affairs columnist, doesn’t think “street exercises” like painting the road are necessary.
Hume is critical of the river design, which he believes serves no useful purpose.
“They should have used some kind of physical mosaic or material that can be applied to the road but then again, that costs a lot of money,” he said.
Hume added that Ryerson closing off Gould Street was a major accomplishment that has aided in transforming the downtown location into a place that feels like a campus. He said this “shouldn’t be forgotten in this controversy.” Ryerson president Sheldon Levy said that the mismanagement of the paint came down to a lack of time.
“We had the ambition to have it [ready] for the start of classes and we didn’t do it – or the company wasn’t good enough or we didn’t do enough of what you could call the preparation work aspect,” Levy said.
“We were being pushed by the time, [we hoped] that when the students arrived that the campus looked presentable and it really was quite a mess so that was probably the biggest deficiency.” Levy said that though the school and paint company haven’t decided on an updated paint treatment, they don’t want to get it wrong a second time around.
“We don’t plan on spending money for failed attempts,” Levy said.
The new paint treatment is set to begin in the spring.
Although the school “should’ve considered all the consequences,” as well as the “potential of peeling,” De Sousa still thinks the idea of painting campus streets was a successful one in terms of helping assert Ryerson’s place in the city.
“I think finally Ryerson has this space marked out,” De Sousa said. “Hopefully we’ll paint it again.” Other members of the school community aren’t as optimistic.
Second-year international economics and finance student, Anna Chung is upset that so much money has been spent on the paint job.
“They should’ve used the funds for something else,” Chung said.
“At this point, I don’t support repainting[the road].” Vice-president education for the Ryerson Students’ Union, Roshelle Lawrence, agrees with Chung, stating that the money could have been put towards more important things like increasing student space.
“It’s upsetting that we used so much money,” Lawrence said.
“It’s a project that wasn’t well thought out.” Lawrence is especially disappointed at how some of the money used to cover the costs came out of tuition fees, something she says the union has been fighting to lower for years.
“A lot of people I see in different campuses, they think ‘what a joke,'” Lawrence said. “It’s funny and sad at the same time.” Lawrence hopes a broader discussion will take place to resolve the issue.”It’s about the administration understanding the real needs of the university.” For Lawrence, it comes down to one thing.
“It’s all about priorities.”