Revitalizing Dal's Student Union Building

- May 8, 2015

A rendering showing the new atrium that is part of the SUB renovations. (Lydon Lynch Architects image)
A rendering showing the new atrium that is part of the SUB renovations. (Lydon Lynch Architects image)

It’s an upgrade that’s been some time in the making. For the first time since it opened in 1968, the Dalhousie Student Union Building is about to receive a major overhaul.

“Every new building that Dalhousie builds or renovates should be considering street level interaction: how can we create a more enjoyable and liveable campus?” asks Nathan Rogers, assistant director of capital planning with Facilities Management at Dal.

It’s a question that the new renovation and expansion plans seek to address, and hopefully answer. The “SUB,” as the building is known to most, is one of the key gathering spaces on the Halifax campuses, a social space which hosts a licensed lounge, food court, university bookstore, copy centre, radio station, student union offices, society offices, meeting rooms, career and wellness centres, and various services to support student life.

A hub for student societies

A central feature of the new SUB renovation is the creation of the Society Hub, a new space that will permanently host society offices and create shared collaborative space for the DSU’s 200-plus student societies.

“The hope is that they’ll be able to collaborate or co-create better, because I think right now a lot of societies aren’t connected very well,” says DSU President Dan Nicholson. Nicholson says the student union worked closely with design architects Lydon Lynch during the planning stage of the project to ensure that student needs and perspectives were and will be adequately represented.

Nicholson says another main focus of the open concept design is to draw students into the SUB. “We’re hoping that the Student Union Building will be more of a hub for students and create spaces for students to build connections.”

When the SUB first opened over 45 years ago, Dalhousie’s student population sat at about 6,000 — a mere fraction of the over 18,000 students who study at Dal today. Demands on the facility to meet the expanding needs of an increasingly diverse student population have been apparent for the last few years, a challenge discussed at length during the creation of the Dalhousie Campus Master Plan in 2010.

Five years later, with the work of Facilities Management and a strong directive of the DSU executive to champion moving ahead with a revitalized SUB, the plan is about to come to life. The Dalhousie Board of Governors has approved a budget of $10.7M for an extensive project scope that includes interior renovations to the basement, first, second and third floors of the SUB totalling approximately 23,000 square feet of the existing 104,000-square-foot building. All designs were developed by Lydon Lynch in consultation with the DSU, the SUB user group and society representatives, and input from the general student population.

A partnership project

The cost for the project will be shared between the university and the student union, with the university contributing $2.4M to the project for elevator upgrades, air-handling improvements and sustainability elements.

In line with the framework of the Master Plan, the project is guided by the principle of campus intensification: creating a compact campus by building from within rather than expanding existing boundaries. Rogers says this helps strengthen social interaction and increases the connectivity of the university community. A large component of the renovations is the expansion of social space, meaning more seating for students, faculty and staff to gather, have a conversation, and extend learning or social opportunities outside of the classroom. The open concept design will provide more common areas, collaborative spaces for dining, socializing and study, and open plan office areas for staff and students.

“It’s really [guided by] the values of the compact campus, which are strengthening social interaction and connectivity of the university community, and that to me is probably the fundamental driving force behind the expansion and renovations of the SUB,” says Rogers. “I would also say it’s a symbol of the cooperation and commitment of the university to the student union, so I think that in and itself is very important as well.”

In addition to increasing the capacity and improving the quality of the facility to cater to student needs — as well as supporting special events and conferences — the expansion plans also continue Dalhousie and the DSU’s ongoing commitment to environmental sustainability. The project will maximize both energy and space efficiency in a number of ways, and emphasizes the creation of spaces for life and daily interaction that will in turn, enhance the student environment. Nicholson adds that the collaboration with the university and its willingness to contribute green technology such as solar panels and energy efficient air exchange will continue to be instrumental throughout the project.

Construction begins this summer

Construction is set to begin imminently and will proceed in stages. The major disruptive elements will happen over the next two summers so that distractions caused by construction will be minimized during the academic year. The renovations are expected to be complete by the end of August 2016.

The DSU and Facilities Management are also planning to host a community information session about the project and the construction practices later this month. Look for details shortly on the Dalhousie Events Calendar.


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