The ExCEL initiative has headed into its next stage of development. On Jan. 20, Agnes Kaznierczak, an architect at Diamond Schmitt Architects, presented the firm’s initial designs for the Hatch Centre to a group of McMaster Engineering students and faculty and revealed the first renderings of the building.

“We just finished schematic design so we’re moving into design development, which basically entails choosing the actual materials and the specifics of more engineering-related things,” said Ryan Rogers, the McMaster Engineering Society VP of External Affairs.

The Hatch Centre itself will attach to the back of the existing John Hodgins Engineering building and will share a variety of its facilities, including the Fireball Café and loading docks, while maintaining the ability to operate independently from JHE.

Kaznierczak’s presentation showed the variety of spaces the new building would contain, including a double-height build space that will house large-scale student projects with offices overlooking the space below. She also showed the numerous student meeting areas, club offices, and the suite that will be occupied by student services. Kaznierczak described the Hatch Center as “robust, elegant, and honest about what it needs to be.”

On the surface the project seems to be progressing well, but there are underlying issues. According to Rogers, the initiative is still within its budget, but that comes with the sacrifice of a number of the proposed eco-friendly features.

“A lot of the big issue with including eco-friendly features was we had to find a balance between the actual functionality of the building versus making it the most innovative and eco-friendly building in Canada,” said Mitchell Kurnell, Director of Public Relations with the McMaster Engineering Society.

He added that eco-friendly features such as solar panels could be installed later, but that the plan to install triple-glazed windows to maximize energy efficiency has not changed.

Despite the compromises on the eco-friendly side of the construction, Rogers was adamant that there have been no changes to the experiential learning features promised in the proposal.

“We’re still going to have visible structures, visible heating and cooling elements, as well as panels basically describing the functionality and the actual process that went towards creating the final product,” he said.

While all parties involved with the ExCEL initiative hope to please as many students and faculty members as possible, concerns have been raised over the course of the project.

“Students have big concerns over whether they will have a say in how the building operates later,” Rogers said. But he explained that the MES is finalizing a plan to have a board composed of Engineering faculty members and students to manage the building together.

“The only [faculty concern] that has come up is who’s going to be moving to the third floor of the ExCEL building, but that was decided through various council meetings and the faculty basically agreed with who we, as a council, decided we wanted to see go into the building,” Kurnell said.

The only faculty members being housed in the Hatch Center will be those who benefit the all of the 4,000 students within the Faculty of Engineering.

The ExCEL initiative has always focused on enhancing the student experience, but if students have questions about the Hatch Center, Rogers promised, “students can always come to us. That’s our job.”

When the Engineering Centre for Experiential Learning initiative reached its initial $8.5 million goal last fall, both Engineering students and faculty were excited. ExCEL was designed as an outlet for students to study, solve problems, and observe real-world applications of class material. Not only was the building proposed to contain a variety of workshop and study spaces, it was all designed to be eco-friendly. In short, the initiative is an engineer’s paradise.

At the recent McMaster Engineering Society Semi-Annual General Meeting it was announced that the Faculty of  Engineering was contributing another $2.5 million to the project, bringing the total cost to $11 million.

“They aren’t taking previous student space,” explained Ryan Rogers, the MES VP of External Affairs. “They’re adding new space for themselves.”

Rogers also explained that the Faculty and the MES are in the process of drafting agreements to ensure the Faculty only gets the space it has paid for, and he confirmed that the faculty being added to the building are student services who interact with the entire engineering student body.

But every paradise has its problems, and ExCEL is no exception. Former Dean of Engineering David Wilkinson’s original building proposal of 22,000 square feet was recently deemed unfeasible.

“Unfortunately no one gave him better advice on what the ‘all-in’ costs were... for example he wasn’t including building permits,” said Kelton Friedrich, the liaison between the McMaster community and design consultants.

Friedrich said the most recent drawings show the building to have a total area of 23,000 square feet, approximately 17,000 of which belong to students.

“Unfortunately the net square footage is not as much as we wanted. For example, nobody ever planned for having a big mechanical room in the basement, so that costs money to build,” he said.

Friedrich projected the final design will be between 21,000 and 25,000 square feet.

This diminished amount of student space has angered some engineering students. When the initiative was first proposed three years ago, the MES had a referendum on whether or not to begin collecting a $50 fee from students to contribute to the building costs. This was before any design plans were released, and some students feel cheated because the Faculty began collecting this levy before any of the building’s details were set in stone.

The details are still not confirmed. According to Rogers, the schematic design phase of the project extends into December of this year, after which point the size and layout of the building will be finalized. Design development will be complete by the end of March. Contractors will have final blueprints by October 2015, and a year from now construction is set to begin. Rogers said that the project is on schedule.

“The goal of the building has always stayed the same... and that is to support students through experiential learning,” said Friedrich.

He maintained that ExCEL will focus on dynamic, active learning environments where students can share their ideas and work collaboratively, and even between different engineering departments.

Rogers was also adamant that the reduced space will not affect the building’s potential to house student innovation.

“All each floor is lacking is 500 square feet,” he said.

In order to add that relatively small amount of space, the array of environmentally friendly features would be compromised.

Friedrich was adamant that the changes to the building’s size will not reduce the features designed to give engineering students a better understanding of how the building works, such as plexi-glass floors in places so the building’s foundations are visible.

Since the project is still in a phase where elements can be changed, Rogers confirmed that the MES welcomes any student concerns.

“We’re their eyes and ears on the building board and we want to ensure that the building reflects their goals and aspirations for the project.”

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