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Asbestos Closure Disrupts McGill Theatre Production

Students affected demand better communication and support from university

The unexpected discovery of asbestos at McGill University’s Moyse Hall has significantly impacted the Arts Undergraduate Theatre Society’s (AUTS) production of Legally Blonde, highlighting broader issues of communication and asbestos management within the institution. The closure, prompted by asbestos detection in January, forced AUTS to relocate to a high school gymnasium, facing considerable logistical and financial challenges. This disruption extends beyond theatrical productions, touching on systemic shortcomings in university operations.

Kimberly König, AUTS President, offered an insightful account of the difficulties encountered, emphasizing the severe logistical hurdles and creative compromises necessitated by the abrupt venue change.

“Transitioning to a new space meant significant downscaling of our set, including the loss of Elle Woods’ iconic pink bedroom. This wasn’t just a logistical issue; it was a blow to our creative vision,” König revealed. This shift not only affected the aesthetic and narrative delivery of the production but also imposed a financial strain on the society, highlighting the precarious nature of student-led initiatives amid sudden institutional crises like these.

The financial toll on AUTS was substantial, as detailed by König, with unforeseen expenses, and the challenge of securing refunds for Moyse Hall bookings exacerbating the society’s budget constraints. “The financial impact was like walking a tightrope, where each additional cost threatened our budget’s stability,” she commented.

Tensions between McGill and AUTS exacerbated the situation, with König criticizing the university’s handling of the closure and the lack of direct communication. “We were piecing together information from various indirect sources, which is unacceptable in such critical situations,” she stated, emphasizing the need for clear and direct communication from the university, especially concerning health risks and support mechanisms.

This incident is not isolated, with similar asbestos-related closures at the Macdonald campus in 2023, revealing communication flaws within McGill’s administration. An internal audit resulted in 25 recommendations aimed at improving communication, project management, and asbestos handling protocols. Despite the creation of a Task Force to address these recommendations, König re-emphasized the ongoing need for improved communication and tangible support from the university.

In response to these challenges, McGill has outlined action plans to address the concerns raised by AUTS and the broader university community. These plans focus on enhancing communication, student support, and asbestos management practices. Specifically, McGill will commit to providing regular, comprehensive updates on health risks and support services available to those affected by asbestos-related closures. This includes clarifying the decision-making process and ensuring that the university community is informed of any potential health implications in a timely and transparent manner.

Additionally, McGill aims to bolster support for student groups impacted by such closures, offering a clear roadmap for financial assistance, logistical support, and mental health resources. This initiative recognizes the significant burden placed on students and student organizations during these crises and seeks to alleviate some of the stress and uncertainty they face.

Moreover, the university is dedicated to improving its asbestos management protocols, including rigorous risk assessments, transparent project management, and clear communication strategies. These measures aim to prevent future disruptions and ensure the safety and well-being of the McGill community.

König’s call for transparency, support, and improved management practices at McGill underscores the need for the university to prioritize the health and safety of its community while fostering an environment conducive to creative and academic pursuits. As McGill implements these plans, the focus will be on building trust, ensuring safety, and supporting student initiatives, as well as pursuing the necessary steps in preventing similar crises and promoting a supportive campus environment.

The struggles faced by AUTS highlight not only the immediate impact on student-led productions but also the broader challenges of managing and communicating about asbestos within an academic institution. As McGill moves forward, addressing these issues through comprehensive action plans will be essential in safeguarding the university community and supporting the vibrant student life that characterizes the institution.