Students likely to be disappointed by plans for Ward Chipman Library this year

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Midterms are only on the horizon, but many students are already hunting for a study nook somewhere on campus, preferably of the peaceful variety.

Quiet study space seems to be quite scarce on the UNBSJ campus during midterm and exam season. For many returning students, the Hans W. Commons lacks this crucial quiet, partially because of its open concept; therefore, students have been stockpiling earplugs over the summer in preparation for midterm and exam seasons. Some students long to be back in the old library—the Ward Chipman. It had many perks: a great view, close proximity to Tims, and you didn’t have to go outside to get there.

For any students new to campus, the Ward Chipman (WC) is the large building on the quad between Hazen Hall and Ganong Hall. The entrance to the WC is up those mysterious stairs by Tim Horton’s that no one seems to use. After the opening of the new Commons last year, the doors of the Ward Chipman were closed, papered, and students have since wondered what our old library would be used for.

Summer has passed and the doors remain closed, with no sign of opening soon. In an effort to solve this mystery, I went to vice-president Robert MacKinnon to see if he could shed some light on the status of the WC.

Dr. MacKinnon had both good and bad news for students. There is a definitive plan in place to completely reconfigure the WC, but the timeline might be disappointing to many students who were hoping to have access to more study space before December exams.

This is the current timeline for the WC : During the last academic year, the primary focus of UNBSJ’s administration was the completion of the Commons building. This included landscaping, (completed over the summer) and finishing the high-tech classroom in the basement of the Commons, which was used for extra quiet space last year. The Commons is now 98 per cent complete, allowing this year’s focus to shift to the overhaul of the WC.

The complex process of reconfiguring the WC began last winter. The campus community was invited to submit their opinions of how the WC should be used. Students, faculty, and staff replied with a wide range of ideas, including increased quiet study space, new classrooms, expanding Saint John College, enhanced student services, meeting rooms, offices for graduate students, a daycare and reception space for public events. Based on the myriad of responses, a committee including the deans of each faculty, two associate vice-presidents and vice president Dr. MacKinnon will identify the top four to six priorities for this space, based on the overall needs of UNBSJ. Then the university will hire a professional planning consultant to look at the WC and provide administration with a proposal of how to best utilize the space. Dr. MacKinnon hopes that the consultant will be hired in the next month or two, and that the proposal will be ready by the winter semester, with reconstruction beginning by next summer.

The long-term plan for the WC can be seen as having some flaws. The obvious must be considered: nothing will be happening this year. Dr. MacKinnon suggests that the whole process in maximizing the use of the space will take time, and all options of the space must be considered. Never fear students, there will be space set aside for students in some capacity, but it may not be exactly what you’re looking for.

A large portion of the original space was taken up by books, not students; therefore, other business and teaching purposes are also being considered in recreating the space. Dr. MacKinnon did not have a definitive answer as to what the space would be used for. The planning consultant will be able to tell the executive planning committee what is possible in the space, and some ideas may not be feasible, despite their priority.

In addition, this project is going to cost millions, and funding has not been secured at this time, although several avenues are being pursued.

Students who are currently looking for more space to study are probably asking “why the WC can’t be used for study space now?” Unfortunately, Dr. MacKinnon says it’s not as simple as opening the doors of the WC to create quiet study space. Sure, the space would actually be utilized, but there are building and fire codes that must be considered. Administration is aware that students complain about the noise level in the Commons, and responded last year by opening classrooms for students to use as quiet study spaces during exams.

Commons staff members are now diligently patrolling and shushing students who are too loud. In Dr. MacKinnon’s opinion, “[administration] has responded, in my view, to the needs of students.”

In the meantime, students will have to be patient and continue their search for the perfect study space. Dr. MacKinnon believes that redoing the WC will help define UNBSJ as a destination campus for students from southwestern New Brunswick, as well as international students.  He envisions the revamped WC as being, “a signature building like the Commons,” almost like two bookends on either end of campus. Hopefully the final product will be worth the wait.