Education Department Approves Move to Faubourg

Long-anticipated Relocation Will Put Department in Controversial Building

The sixth floor of the Faubourg building will soon be occupied by Concordia’s education department. Photo Brandon Johnston

Concordia’s education department has voted “by a clear majority” to accept the university’s proposal to move the department to the fifth and sixth floors of the Faubourg Ste-Catherine shopping mall, according to education department chair Richard Schmid.

Faced with the impending renovation of the Webster Library, the education department will soon be forced to vacate the fifth floor of the LB Building, where it has been based since the building opened in 1992.

Accepting the Faubourg as the new home for the department “was a group decision after a long presentation from the professionals, and another long internal discussion,” Schmid told The Link in an email.

The move will take place in April or May 2015, according to Associate Vice-President of Facilities Management Peter Bolla.

“I am pleased that the recommendation was clear. All still acknowledge the drawbacks of [the FG building], but it’s the better of the two options, and will hopefully meet our collective needs,” Schmid said.

The other option presented by the university was to spread the large department over three separate floors in the Hall Building. According to this proposal, it would have taken over half the seventh and 10th floors, as well as part of the fifth.

The Hall Building proposal was discussed at the council meeting of the education department on March 5, although the university and the department both requested that the alternate plan remain confidential until a decision was made.

But the proposal for the Hall Building was far less detailed than the one for the Faubourg, and some at the meeting expressed the opinion that it was never a viable option.

“It’s like they just give you an alternative so that you’ll like the first one better,” said one professor.

Deciding the Education Department’s Fate

Moving the LB Building’s fifth floor residents to the Faubourg has been in the cards for some time, according to a Link article titled “Yet Another ConU Space Case,” published in October 2012.

The education department was never intended to remain in the LB building for long in the first place.

“When we moved in, we were almost literally told not to unpack our boxes,” Schmid said.

The university has had 22 years to find a new site for the department, he added.

The Loyola campus’s Hingston Hall was offered as a possible option about 15 years ago, Schmid said, but that offer was rejected.

“I wouldn’t send my worst enemy into that building with what they were proposing,” he said. “It’s a god-awful building and it did not conform to the needs of the department.

“For them to have retrofitted that space would have cost more than to blow it up and start over,” he added, noting that renovations would have cost $22 million.

In 2004, Concordia purchased the Grey Nuns property, just south of the Faubourg, for $18 million. The property, which is the size of a city block, doubled the university’s downtown footprint, but was never considered a possible site for the education department aside from the small annex that will be used for its observation nursery, according to Schmid and Bolla.

Over the course of the last decade, Concordia added more buildings to its name dedicated to other faculties and departments. In 2005, the nearby EV Building was opened but was not considered for the education department. In 2009, it was the MB Building—space Schmid said he “actively lobbied for.”

“We were told in no uncertain terms that a condition of the donation by the Molson family was that all of the space would be used for the business school,” Schmid said.

However, Concordia’s music and theatre departments both hold the majority of their classes in the MB building for the time being, among other departments spanning all faculties at Concordia except engineering and computer science.

Bolla said the education department would have gotten the Hall Building’s entire seventh floor if the Concordia Student Union had relocated to the Faubourg and used it as a student centre.

The student union has collected over $13 million for a student centre through a $1.50-per-credit fee levy. Undergraduate students have previously voted against the administration’s proposal that the CSU purchase the building for student space.

Faubourg at the Centre of Campus and Controversy

In 2010, The Link unsuccessfully attempted to determine who was behind the ownership group of Edifice 1616 Ste. Catherine Ouest Le Faubourg Inc. The Link recently got in touch with the company, but it once again refused to disclose any names.

When asked who currently owns the building, Bolla replied that he doesn’t know, then said he couldn’t provide that information. He added that he has a contact at the company but that the person’s information is confidential.

“It’s irrelevant,” he said. “Once we buy it, we own it.”

With the university’s acquisition of the Grey Nuns property, the physical centre of its downtown campus shifted away from the Hall and LB buildings southwest to the intersection of Guy St. and Ste. Catherine St. W., said Bolla. As a result, the education department’s move to the Faubourg would put it near the new heart of Quartier Concordia.

The university intends to purchase the rest of the building and use it for academic space, Bolla said.

“It’ll be redeveloped over the mid-to-long term,” he said, although he did not provide a specific timeline.

Bolla also hesitated to confirm whether the university intends to have other academic departments based in the Faubourg. The Mel Hoppenheim School of Cinema and the Centre for Continuing Education are currently operating out of the adjoining FB building, but the education department would be the only department in the shopping complex—at least at the start.

“Our intention is to have more classrooms, more academic groups,” Bolla said of the FG building.

When asked further if there will be other departments joining education, he said, “There probably will be, yeah. But I can’t tell you who and when.”

In addition, Bolla was asked about the fact that the education department will be located above a Dollarama in what has previously been described in The Link as “a decrepit former mall.”

“It’s not in a shopping mall but on top of it,” said Bolla. “I would look at it as part of the development of the Grey Nuns block.

“No matter what happens with the Faubourg, the ground floor has to be commercial by law,” he added, although Concordia would not renew the lease for Dollarama on the third floor.

University spokesperson Chris Mota said “it’s nothing new” for urban university campuses to have businesses operating on the ground level of one of their buildings.

“There are universities where commercial space is incorporated right into it,” she said, mentioning that the University of Alberta has an entire residence built over a shopping mall.

“In an urban university setting, it’s not an oddity.”

Bolla attempted to assuage concerns about the Faubourg.

“It’s an existing space that we’ll renovate to our standards,” he said. “It’ll be just like a new space.”