By Katie Swyers
The Ryerson School of Performance space in the Student Learning Centre (SLC) might be a temporary solution, but Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said the move still cost the university over $10 million.
Ryerson is currently transforming the old theatre building at 44 Gerrard St. E. into the Centre for Urban Innovation for about $45 million–approximately $20 million of which are from federal funds. Renovations began last year and are expected to finish in 2018.
Lachemi described the space situated in the basement of the SLC as the “short-term plan” to accommodate the performance school while Ryerson searches for a permanent space through external partnerships.
“At this point actually, we are in discussion with several potential partners and we are considering different options, so the process is ongoing,” said Lachemi. “Unfortunately, we cannot start giving names because this will defeat the purpose of getting the best possible solution for our students.”
Lachemi said that the university is looking externally because of the unique and technical needs of the school that can’t be met by existing Ryerson buildings.
“[There] are very specific facilities that we need,” said Lachemi. “I don’t see any potential location on the existing campus to accommodate the needs of the programs.”
Lachemi did not confirm what the initial budget for the SLC basement renovations was, saying instead that the budgets for projects like these constantly change.
He added that faculty, staff and students from the performance school were involved in design consultations. “We always change the scope of the project as we progress because we discover things, we add things and so on.
“I think that we were expecting just under 10 million,” Lachemi said, regarding the current budget.
Lauren Clegg, Ryerson’s media relations officer, said in an email that the renovations cost $10.57 million in total for 19,757 square feet of space.
Lachemi called the year-old SLC basement space a “state-of-the-art” facility. “In my opinion, it provides exceptional experiences and training possibilities for the next generation of theatre and production professionals.”
Due to its size, the move to the SLC basement can only be a partial solution for the performance school. Faculty and students are also using a rented space in the Atrium on Bay and spaces in Kerr Hall.
Ryerson rented the Atrium space on a five-year lease, according to Peggy Shannon, chair of the Ryer- son School of Performance.
“For now it is accommodating them,” said Lachemi, adding that the university needs to give the school space where all three performance programs—acting, dance and production—can be housed together like in the previous Gerrard Street location.
According to students, this separation of the programs has caused some issues.
“There’s not really an opportunity for cross-collaboration between the programs now,” said Angelo Pileggi, co-president of the Ryerson School of Performance Student Union.
Pileggi explained that since the move, dance students are mainly in the SLC basement, acting students in Kerr Hall and production students either where the performers are, or in the Atrium—leading to a lot of running around and the loss of a sense of community.
“We try to hold events that bring all three programs together but it’s hard when everyone is so busy, and it was so much easier before when the course union had the green room, which was our student lounge,” said Pileggi.
Since moving, the performance school does not have a lounge area.
Pileggi said that while students are grateful for the new SLC facilities and equipment, it has been a tricky transition from having a dedicated room for the student lounge to hardly having any communal space in the new location.
The rented area on the ninth floor of the Atrium, surrounded by other offices, has meanwhile become the overflow, where students go to eat lunch.
Third-year acting student Natalie Marjanovic thinks that the SLC renovations are pretty good, but adds that more space is needed for actors.
Third-year acting student Augusta Monet, however, feels that the needs of acting students were overlooked and that the funds went to making things look nice instead of creating more space.
“It’s too bad, because we just want a place that feels like ours and when we’re scattered around, drifting and rehearsing in hallways, that’s hard,” said Monet.
She wondered why Ryerson didn’t just let them keep the building they’d always been in. “A lot of us are confused why they gave it [away].”
With files from Rameez Hameed and Peter White.