Agricultural Campus turns focus to restoration and rebuild phase after Cox Fire

- October 26, 2018

Left: File photo of the Cox exterior. Upper right: workspace being used in the Truro Mall. Lower right: Taking the short bus ride to the Truro Mall.
Left: File photo of the Cox exterior. Upper right: workspace being used in the Truro Mall. Lower right: Taking the short bus ride to the Truro Mall.

It’s been nearly four months since a devastating fire on the Agricultural Campus destroyed the interior of the Faculty’s main academic building, the Cox Institute.

While no one was injured, significant damage to labs, classrooms and offices threatened the upcoming academic semester for new and returning students. Contamination, humidity and water damage throughout the section known as “Old Cox” means that it now requires a complete interior rebuild.

“Cox Institute is one of the main buildings on our campus — and the loss of the Old Cox portion shook us all,” says Agricultural Campus Dean and Principal David Gray. “Not only did we lose teaching and work spaces, but personal belongings were destroyed. Research was lost as well. It was devastating for our entire campus.

“With students due back for the fall term in just a few months, the whole campus rallied together to ensure their academic term would not be jeopardized.”

A coordinated team effort

The university mobilised a full-scale recovery. A steering committee formed to initiate a logistics plan to restore the campus to normal operations as quickly as possible. The summer months were dedicated to relocating faculty and staff along with research programs and graduate students.  Specialized contractors recovered and cleaned essential equipment and personal items from Old Cox.

Space in the new Student Learning Commons.

By utilizing space in an Athletic Centre classroom, the Alumni Theatre and the recently opened Student Learning Commons, it was possible to keep almost all classes on the main campus. For extra space for offices, research and classrooms as needed, the university leased space in the nearby Truro Mall.  A free shuttle bus now carries faculty, staff and students between the mall and main campus. Staff in Jenkins Hall (the campus dining hall) made space available for a full-scale bookstore, and a new greenhouse was set up in the Demonstration Garden area to prepare for fall planting.

As well, a number of additional resources were dedicated to helping the campus get back on its feet. Dalhousie appointed a Fire Response Coordinator, a full-time senior resource to manage procurement and ongoing efforts to recover lab contents and equipment. A new full-time storekeeper was hired to help catalogue contents in the storage facility. A new administrative assistant was brought on to process information requests and roll out new process for equipment calibration. Additional teaching assistants, lab demonstrators and markers were put in place to support instructors. And representatives from Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP) have been on site for support and counselling. Staff and faculty can also register for a new program offering intended to boost resilience.

Collaboration and coordination have been key to creating a seamless and welcoming experience for students, says Dean Gray.

“A dedicated team effort was undertaken to ensure campus was ready for the fall intake of students. New-to-Dal and returning students expect and deserve educational excellence. And I’m overwhelmed by the response, and the commitment people made to ensure that staff and faculty had the essential supplies and resources they needed to kick things off on the right foot.”

Launch of the Green Shoots Program

The fire was tremendously disruptive, and it displaced many staff and faculty. In addition to the physical space and disruption of work, one of the biggest losses to the campus was the research, including computers, specimens and file storage.

President Florizone recently announced the Agricultural Green Shoots Program, a Dalhousie initiative to address research lost in the fire at Cox Institute. The university has funded the Program with $650,000, with $300,000 of that provided by the Faculty of Agriculture. And engagement with additional partners will hopefully increase this fund moving forward.  

“We know the fire at Cox has had a significant impact on our research programs,” said President Richard Florizone. “Decades’ worth of samples and work has been lost, as well as valuable time at a crucial point in the agricultural year. In many cases, this material was not insurable or recoverable. By establishing the Green Shoots Program, we want to help researchers bring their programs back online as quickly as possible.

Restoring Old Cox to be new again

Old Cox will need to be rebuilt. Tenders have been awarded for the restoration work, including one for architectural design services and a construction team to oversee the project. A design team has been meeting with internal stakeholders including grad students, researchers and the classroom-planning committee to gather insights into how Old Cox can become new again.

“It’s amazing to reflect back on how far we have come since last June. And it is thanks to each and every one on our campus, their hard work and determination has brought us to this point,” said Dean Gray. “Every dark cloud has a silver lining. There’s no question the past few months have been challenging, but we now have a unique opportunity to consider how we will use the space in Cox Institute and how it can be reimagined going forward. We’re entering into our planning stages now and will look to engage campus in the months ahead.”

Until then, each week any new information about the Cox Fire restoration and rebuilding efforts can be found at:  


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