Imagining a better Dalhousie

Students brainstorm the kind of spaces they want

- February 1, 2007

Students discussed what they'd like to see in new student spaces. (Abriel photo)

Light-filled. Comfortable. Warm. Aesthetically appealing. Wireless. 24/7.

At an event dubbed Imagine 07, Dalhousie students brainstormed the kind of student spaces that work for them and began the process of imagining new student social and study spaces at the university.

About 200 students turned up for Imagine 07, organized by the Dalhousie Student Union in the McInnes Room on Wednesday afternoon. The cafŽ-style event followed two other ÒImagine” events last year in which social and work spaces for students were identified as pressing needs. Those needs have also been expressed by students in surveys conducted by the university.

ÒItÕs pretty clear that learning at a university like Dalhousie doesnÕt only occur in the classroom,” said Ezra Edelstein, DSU president.

The university has put forward a proposal to build or renovate 11 spaces across three campuses, including enhanced green space around University Avenue, new studio space on Sexton Campus, and a new building for student activities adjacent to the SUB. Dalhousie president Tom Traves spoke more about the proposals, stressing theyÕre only concepts at this stage.

Pay as you go

Students will get a chance to vote on the idea of more and better student spaces when it goes to a referendum next month. (The date and question have not yet been set.) ItÕs proposed students will help pay for the projects using a pay-as-we-go model; starting in 2009, students would contribute $10 per course for improvements they would help design. 

The $25 million that students would eventually contribute would be matched by the university in the development and maintenance of the facilities.

ÒWhile I will show you various drawings of new buildings and renovations that look detailed, in fact these models are simply placeholders for the real spaces that we will invite you to help design,” said Dalhousie president Tom Traves, as a projector flashed up artist renderings.

ÒThese spaces are your spaces. They need to be designed to meet your preferences and requirements and we can only do that once our architects have had a full opportunity to consult with you actively about your needs, likes and dislikes. After theyÕve consulted widely, they will then go away and work up plans that meet your approval.”

Dr. Traves said heÕs already heard from many students who say that old and worn-out facilities need to be fixed first. He says the university is committed to speeding up that process and paying for those renovations out of its operating budget.

A yes vote by students in the referendum would also kick start a much larger, $200-million fundraising campaign aimed primarily at alumni.

ÒI can assure you that this will help us leverage additional gifts for Dalhousie,” he said. ÒA positive vote in the referendum by you will create and leave something behind you that will last for generations.”


The two-and-a-half hour event generated heated discussion. Many students spoke of their affection for the Grad House, which under this plan, would come down to make way for a new student building. Dr. Traves said the Grad House has a limited lifespan in any case. It needs $750,000 in repairs Ð Òand the building isnÕt worth $750,000.”

Students like its homey, laidback character Ñ ÒitÕs not the Grawood” Ñ and the fact that it offers healthy food choices hard to find elsewhere on campus.

But other students found the focus on the Grad House Òpolarizing.”

ÒTheyÕre hell bent on (saving the Grad House) and willing to scuttle the whole process,” lamented Justin LaRusso, a fourth-year English student.

Moreover, students from Sexton campus said project space Ð not social space Ð is their top priority. These days, students are working on design projects in hallways, welding in rooms without proper ventilation, and canÕt find tables large enough to lay out architectural drawings.

ÒThe biggest thing is to get students more involved,” said Mike Doherty, a first-year science student after the event wrapped and several students lagged behind for the chance to speak with Dr. Traves.

ÒStudents need to be reassured that weÕre not going to give the university carte blanche. (The university) is going to come back and say, ÔWhat do you want?Õ

ÒI take (Tom Traves) at his word when he says students will be involved. ThatÕs not what concerns me Ð itÕs that students arenÕt going to involve themselves.”


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