By Dexter LeRuez and Gabriela Silva Ponte
Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU) announced in June it had acquired two new buildings located at 277 Victoria St. and 38 Dundas St. E.
The school will have a two-year handoff plan, where current occupants of the buildings will remain until the spring of 2025.
The release cited a Council of Ontario Universities report, in which TMU was considered one of the most space-challenged universities in the province.
Faculty and student reactions
TMU professors are excited about this change.
“As the university seeks to create a reputation for itself as an urban university and a place to attract students, it is a well situated building,” said Chris De Sousa, professor of urban and regional planning at TMU.
De Sousa hopes that the interior of the Victoria Street building will be used for office and research space, something he believes TMU is in short supply of.
“Given the makeup of that building, I’m thinking office space, lab space. A lot of our faculty over the last decade in particular have really increased their research productivity. And so they need lab space for their students,” he said. “We have a lot of professionals who come in and teach a course and they need space as well as our research assistants and visitors. So I think that building would probably serve best as an office.”
Raktim Mitra, director and associate professor at the School of Urban and Regional Planning, spoke about his hopes for the new facilities.
“My hope is that in these new buildings, we’d have larger classrooms that offer more appropriate learning environments for our students,” he said.
But fourth-year sport media student Armen Zargarian said he hopes it will be a hangout space, like the Sheldon & Tracy Levy Student Learning Centre (SLC).
“Another open space for people to just chill and get their work done,” said Zargarian. “I think people could still use that space to hangout, kick up, work, collaborate.”
Second-year nutrition and food student Nasra Ali feels the same way.
“I hope that we can use [the buildings] as…quieter study zones or a place for people to wind down,” she said.
Fourth-year computer science student Shameer Rehman had a couple of ideas for what could go into the building.
“I would want some sort of gymnasium, maybe another weight lifting room. Because I know the [Mattamy Athletic Centre] is kind of a walk from here and the [Recreation and Athletic Centre] is kind of small,” he said. “So adding another facility where students can go for recreational spaces would be nice.”
“Adding better places for students to study, more bookable spaces, like study rooms. Because the [Toronto Metropolitan University Library] ones or the SLC always seem to be booked,” he added.
But others, like incoming first-year social work student Lucy Pinili, have different ideas in mind.
“I hope that whatever TMU will use it for, will be…mental health or health [services],” said Pinili. “’Cause it was once that, I’d hope that that’s what it’s going to be for, but maybe more accessible for students as well.”
In an emailed statement to The Eyeopener, vice-president, administration and operations Saeed Zolfaghari said, “While it’s not clear exactly how the space will be used at this time, the additional space creates countless possibilities for academic, research, creative and entrepreneurial initiatives.”
Zolfaghari added in the emailed statement that the purchase would “enhance the university’s presence at an important entryway into the core campus.”
Both Mitra and De Sousa spoke about the possibility of a new gateway into campus.
“With these buildings, we’d now have a presence on Dundas [Street], which is basically covering the key intersection that identifies our institution,” said Mitra. “I think the purchase of these buildings would create another gateway into the university.”
“I think [38 Dundas St. E.] could definitely be some kind of welcoming point for people coming into the university,” said De Sousa.”We have the [SLC], which is kind of like one doorway on Gould [Street] and that white building at Dundas [Street] and Victoria [Street] could kind of be another doorway into the campus.”
Relocation of the safe injection site
But the acquisition of these buildings will require a large adjustment. 277 Victoria St. currently serves as a safe injection site, as part of The Works Needle Exchange Program. It will have to be relocated once the school takes over the buildings. The site has, for long, been a concern for students and staff at the university.
“Health and safety, particularly since the pandemic, has been a significant area of concern in and around campus,” said Mitra. “Particularly areas near Dundas Street around campus are probably less safe for students than it used to be before.”
“The relocation of the safe injection site…may help improve our safety for our students. But in saying this, I am very much aware that relocating a site that is perceived as problematic is not a solution for that problem,” he added. “It is possible that by relocating that site we are just transferring the problem we are facing to other civil communities.”
Zolfaghari wrote, “Toronto Public Health has been working on plans for the future of these services for some time,” but did not address where the site might be relocated to.
De Sousa raised some probable criteria for where the safe injection site should be moved.
“I’m hoping that the city can identify a place that allows the inside safe injection activities as well as the pre and post realities of that site,” he said. “Optimally, it would be somewhere that would serve the current population that uses that site close by. And I think it needs to be in proximity to hospitals in case of emergencies.”
Zargarian said he believes the relocation would make TMU’s campus safer.
“There’s been so many times where I’ve had classmates ask me to walk them past that little strip because they feel uncomfortable,” he said. “Both for campus and tourism, I think it will lead to a safer, more welcoming neighbourhood,” he added.
And it seems other students feel that same way.
“I’m glad they did buy those buildings, I know personally a lot of students, my friends and myself, we don’t feel comfortable usually walking through that road,” said Rehman.
De Sousa seconded Rehman’s point. “I think dealing with the safety issues of that street will make it a much more pleasant experience for students who are coming in and out of campus,” he said.
Yet other students, like Pinili, say they wonder what will happen to those currently using the site.
“They’re expanding the campus because [it] doesn’t have that many building spaces. But it’s also bad because the people who are in there using the safe injection site are going to be displaced,” agreed Ali.
Better or worse than Carlton Cinemas?
In December 2022, TMU announced it would partner with Carlton Cinemas, located at 20 Carlton St., to serve as more classroom space. But professors and students alike have showcased some concerns surrounding the use of cinemas as classrooms.
Mitra said he has taught in a movie theatre before, but that there is a lack of engagement and creativity opportunities in those spaces.
“The university has done a great job in trying to address our space shortages by partnering with our community partners, but if we can create those spaces using our own infrastructure, I think that’s better,” he said.
“It’s not very easy to teach in a theatre sometimes because they’re too relaxing. It’s hard to engage with students because they’re so high above you,” De Sousa agreed.
Zargarian said he didn’t have “motivation” to write notes in Carlton Cinema.
“Especially in the winter, I’m carrying a North Face jacket, my backpack, so it wasn’t ideal to bust out notes and do it there. So I’m hoping they can actually make a space with tables and chairs and have room to put a coffee down, for example,” he said.ali
Ali described her experience with classes in a movie theatre.
“The movie theatre seats are too [comfortable] and I always fall asleep in lectures. If I don’t fall asleep, it’s not an optimal learning space because there’s no proper desk somewhere for me to use my laptop,” said Ali. “And also, it’s super tight, leg space wise, because it’s a movie theatre.”
Overall, faculty and students seem content with the acquisition of these buildings.
“I think it will be beneficial and they should’ve done this sooner,” said Rehman.
“These new additions are a welcomed thing, because they create additional and improved spaces for students to learn, to do their research, but also it creates spaces for them to socialize,” said Mitra. “I think it’s a great thing and I look forward to what comes out of it.”