On October 12, an information session was held regarding the closure of the Shatner Building from February 15, 2018 to winter 2019. The renovation project will vacate the University Centre for a large-scale renovation concerning the heating and ventilation system, as well as the replacement of the electrical distribution. As a result, all business and club operations at the Students Society of McGill University (SSMU) building will be closed or moved to another location. Prior to the event, a submission form was available for students to submit questions or concerns. Questions were addressed by general manager of SSMU Ryan Hughes, academic planning officer Jonathan Nordland, SSMU VP Student Affairs Jemark Earle, and Adrian Nicolicescu.
Students unaware of closure
The building closure was announced to the student body through McGill’s “What’s New” listserv this fall semester, then through a SSMU statement e-mailed to undergraduate students in October. However, many students were unaware of the building closure until a public Facebook invite for the information session was made, although some within SSMU had known about the closure well in advance.
“We were made aware that SSMU was going to be closing about a month ago,” said David Marchionni, the VP Communications of WalkSafe McGill.
Marchionni mentioned that some operations, such as student clubs were made aware of the closure later than other groups, “it was made clear to us that the services were being informed, but it was not clear that other clubs would not be informed. […] We figured that if they were telling us, they were going to tell […] everyone, and that turned out not to be true, considering that most people found out by a Facebook event.”
“We figured that if they were telling us, they were going to tell […] everyone, and that turned out not to be true, considering that most people found out by a Facebook event.”
When questioned why it has taken so long for all students to be informed, Hughes answered that details were not available then concerning the scope and timing of the renovations. In response to the criticisms, Earle has promised to expand office hours to answer additional questions from student clubs. The University will also be meeting bi-weekly to discuss how to mediate communication.
How will clubs and services be relocated?
McGill will be referring student services to a new location, and move future events to one of the libraries on campus. Tenants including student clubs and services will have access to the building until the end of February to relocate. Hughes announced that student groups will ideally be notified by mid-November of their new locations but there is no guarantee on the timeline.
The Players’ Theatre is currently struggling to find a method to move out their technical equipment, valued up to thousands of dollars.
“Even if we have a company to dismantle […] we’re going to face a loss of an entire season, as we have no space to perform,” said Nadine Pelaez, the technical director of the theatre company. According to Pelaez, students are not qualified to dismantle their equipment, meaning that they need to pay for a moving service.
“Even if we have a company to dismantle […] we’re going to face a loss of an entire season, as we have no space to perform.”
Pelaez commented on the financial impact of having to move their operations, “The Players’ Theatre was founded in 1921, and is one of the only English black box theatres in the Montreal, community. […] We are funded by ticket sales, from our six shows a year, and end of year drama festival. Without them, it will be difficult to move on in the future. […] I had wanted to make this a theatre company of Montreal, to grow our company and having this closure sets us back completely.”
Hughes mentioned that the financial impact of the move hasn’t been estimated yet, therefore there is currently no guarantee of funding help if student groups face financial difficulty. McGill will not commit to subsidizing spaces if clubs or services face rental increases but announced that ‘help’ will be available for moving, such as access to bubble wrap.
When a representative of Queer McGill asked if the future locations will be accessible, as their organization mandates accessible spaces, Hughes responded, “We live in Montreal.”
Criticism from the McGill community
“There is a complete lack of respect. […] Our company found out in May, and it was very unprofessional in that they didn’t give us information. We were told there would be an end of August announcement, but the statement was a month late. We struggled with avoidance from the SSMU executives, they were not answering e-mails, or giving us dates to meet with them,” said Pelaez.
“I do feel that there is a lot of solidarity with other clubs who face issues with rentals, with storage, and with being without answers.” The only McGill student club verbally assured that their club “will be fine,” regarding storage and access, was the McGill Quidditch team.
“We were told there would be an end of August announcement, but the statement was a month late. We struggled with avoidance from the SSMU executives, they were not answering e-mails, or giving us dates to meet with them.”
On the lack of transparency in the process, Marchionni commented, “I can understand why some services […] would be moved, […] because they are SSMU services rather than student clubs. […] I do understand why student clubs would be upset by this, […] it was […] very sloppy execution,” continued Marchionni, “On behalf of the other clubs I’m in and everyone else, it’s kind of a stab in the back.”