By Raneem Alozzi and Sherina Harris
A space designated for aerospace engineering students is being converted into a storage area—and students and faculty weren’t consulted.
A room in the George Vari Engineering and Computing Centre will undergo construction in the winter to create a storage space for the civil engineering department, leaving students and faculty members in search of a safe workspace.
Zouheir Fawaz, an aerospace engineering professor and one of three principal investigators in the lab, said he attended a meeting last June with Thomas Duever, the dean of the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science (FEAS). Fawaz said Duever showed him blueprints that outlined the construction project and asked for Fawaz’s opinion.
After considering the impact and consequences of the construction, Fawaz said he emailed Duever saying he did not think the project should go forward. He said Duever replied that it would proceed regardless.
“We do things through discussion and through dialogue, coming to some kind of an agreement,” said Fawaz. “You cannot force me out of my space, let alone force the students out of their space.”
Undergraduate students’ tutorials and labs are often held at Facility for Research on Aerospace Materials and Engineered Structures (FRAMES), which is staffed by undergraduate and graduate research assistants.
The lab is used for demonstrations, such as bending structures representing airplane wings. Fawaz said each semester for one course, five to six labs of at least 20 students use the work space. With the proposed construction, Fawaz said these teaching activities will no longer be able to take place.
During several other meetings, Fawaz said FEAS, and at one point, the provost, Michael Benarroch, did not further explain or justify their decision.
In an email response from Duever to Fawaz, Duever said, “[Facilities Management and Development] will work with you to create a new office area within the lab for the students that are displaced.”
“You cannot force me out of my space, let alone force the students out of their space”
Duever said he would assume any costs that were involved and asked FMD to keep the staff at the FRAMES informed of their plans and construction schedule.
Benarroch did not comment with regards to the department’s transparency. The Office of Public Affairs said Benarroch is not directly involved in the move.
Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi is one of the researchers at the civil engineering lab. He said the project, which is in the final design stages, is expected to begin construction in February.
Students and staff in the lab said that closing off the area they use in the aerospace lab will disrupt their research and the storage will take up valuable student space.
“That space is not available. And [the university] would have known had they asked me that we cannot spare this particular area they’re claiming…we’re using the lab to full capacity and we’re actually already saturated,” Fawaz said.
Fawaz said the research area at FRAMES is the only student workspace in the lab.
“They’re literally coming and grabbing student research and teaching space, and turning it into a storage area, which makes the idea even more outrageous,” he said, adding that the university exists primarily for students.
Duever said in a statement that after a consultation process led by FEAS the FRAMES lab was decided to be the most viable space for storage.
“While plans for the storage facility are ongoing, safety and minimizing the impact on research remain the priorities,” he said.
The engineering building was designed to fully accommodate the FRAMES lab when it was initially designed in 2001.
The Office of Public Affairs said they are aware the space currently houses student desks, and these desks will move to another area of the same lab.
The dean’s office sent the aerospace engineering professors who have equipment in the lab an email in September with two options for moving student space.
The options were based on incomplete floor plans. There is currently storage and equipment in the spots where the faculty suggested students move to.
Ryerson’s FMD did not provide blueprints to The Eye as they are not yet available.
Students said they don’t know where they will relocate when construction begins.
“How do you plan for something, when you don’t know when it’s starting, you don’t know when it’s finishing, you know nothing about the scope of it,” said Michael Foppiano, a fourth-year mechanical engineering student and a research assistant at the lab.
Foppiano said he wishes students were consulted about the construction. There was no email sent to students. Those impacted found out about it through their professors, who said the project was already in the works.
“There’s a total lack of transparency. I’m gathering from the bits and pieces of information that I’ve been able to obtain,” Fawaz said. “Tell me that I’m opposing a very good cause and this storage space is something extremely important that can easily trump research, teaching and student needs.”
Fawaz said he recently found out from his students that contractors have been entering the lab to take measurements and pictures without his permission.
This is a problem, he said, because the lab is conducting research that is sometimes governed by non-disclosure agreements.
Students said they don’t know where they will relocate when construction begins
Research assistants who work at the lab said the construction will disrupt their research, which focuses on printing 3D models that help develop aerospace materials and components.
If dust gets into a printer, it will slow down the research process and potentially double their research timeline said Larkin Lee, a graduate of the aerospace engineering program and a research assistant at FRAMES.
Sadben Khan, a master of applied science student and research assistant at FRAMES, said if the construction blocks the main entrance to the lab, people will have to walk past the yellow safety line—a line drawn to distinguish between safe and dangerous areas—meaning they may pass machines that are running.
“There’s a major safety issue there,” Khan said. “There’s no space. You’re going to be walking into the danger zone.”
Lee said the point of having the student-only lab space is that students don’t need to wear safety equipment when they are there.
“It’s a deterrent for students coming to you. It’s, ‘Oh, I don’t really want to go down there to come see you, I’ll just try to figure it out by myself,’” Lee said. The FRAMES lab is where both Lee and Khan primarily work and conduct research.
Lee said this is helpful for students to see the demonstrations since they parallel experiences they might have when they work in the industry.
Among some of the other concerns that Lee and Khan had were the possibility of the construction becoming a fire hazard, blocking the light switches for the entire lab and blocking the ethernet cables needed to connect to the department network to run simulations.
According to Ryerson’s Office of Public Affairs, the civil engineering department “will benefit” from 750 sq. ft. of additional storage room in the aerospace lab. They will also gain 250 sq. ft. of storage from a nearby mechanical room.
The dean of FEAS said that the space will store raw materials and samples for the civil engineering department’s structures research lab.
Because students and staff were not notified, Lee said he feels like he has no control over the construction and can do nothing to stop it.
“It’s very unethical that they’re doing this,” said Khan.