McMaster has found a new home for its Downtown Centre after hearing from the city that its current building, the old Wentworth County Courthouse at 50 Main Street East, is needed again for municipal purposes.
Roger Couldrey, McMaster’s vice-president, administration, told the public about the find.
“We are pleased to announce that McMaster is taking over more than 50,000 square feet of space at 1 James North, right at the corner of James and King,” he said in an interview with the Daily News.
McMaster will be leasing the entire building at 1 James Street North—an office building on top of Jackson Square mall.
“I think it’s a great location. It’s one of the best corners in downtown Hamilton, and is a stand-alone building that we can make our own. It allows us to contribute once more to the rejuvenation of downtown Hamilton,” said Couldrey.
More than 200 staff members and 4,000 students will continue to use the new Downtown Centre.
Most service units from the current DTC will be making the move to the new building, while a few others will be implemented into the Medical Health Campus that is currently under construction and set to at open at the start of 2015.
Financial Affairs—who overseas investments, purchasing, accounts and treasury—and Advancement—the office responsible for fundraising and donor relations—will be making the move to 1 James North, along with the office of Institutional Research and Analysis and the Centre for Continuing Education.
Some of the research units will be packing up for McMaster Innovation Park, while the Regional Medical Associates will be making their own arrangements for new space.
The new lease was signed after negotiations between Yale Properties and the University, through Strategic Procurement and Facility Services.
“It is a long-term lease, not indefinite but long-term,” said Couldrey. He continued, “we are not making the details public. The University will be investing quite substantially in fitting out the new space.”
The 50,000 square feet at the 1 James Street North property is a smaller space than the current DTC but Couldrey doesn’t see it as a problem.
“The DTC was built as a public building, a court house, and is very spacious. The new building will be designed to normal office standards. By virtue of the multiple parties moving [elsewhere] we actually have a need for less space,” he said.
Thousands of students and hundreds of staff transitioning to 1 James North will have to find a new place to park.
The building is in a convenient location for access to public transit but those who drive to the DTC will have to pay for parking under the building or in a nearby lot.
McMaster hopes to make the move in late 2014 and early 2015, permitting a lease extension on the 50 Main Street East building.
“The City originally gave us notice to move out of the DTC building by Dec. 31 2014. We have asked for an extension and are hopeful that a small extension will be possible. We are planning the move accordingly,” said Couldrey.
McMaster has operated out of the Downtown Centre for 13 years.
When Amina Khan and Yusra Munawar were told last year that their on-campus prayer room would be torn down, they didn’t hit the panic button.
Khan and Munawar, executive members of the McMaster Muslim Students Association, were assured by the university that they would be relocated before Wentworth House, home of their space, was demolished.
Now, with a few weeks left until eviction, the MSA and other student groups in Wentworth House are still looking for answers.
“Everybody’s scrambling. They’re trying to find spots for us in random places on campus, trying to find temporary solutions. We don’t know how long we’ll be in those spaces and it’s just really frustrating,” said Khan.
The MSA has more than 1,000 Muslim student members at McMaster and has two rooms in Wentworth House that allow up to 100 students to pray at a time.
“We were clear about our requirements – that the [new] space needs to be carpeted. It needs to be a large, accommodating area that’s accessible to campus in order for Muslim students to pray there. Surprisingly, the space we were given is anything but that,” said Khan.
Recently, several tenants including the MSA were told they would likely be moving to a portable unit in Lot O. The lot is about 1.5 km from campus, located past the bridge behind the Mary E. Keyes building. Shuttle buses run from campus to Lot O between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m. Monday to Friday.
“Muslim students pray five times a day between classes,” said Khan. “A place that needs a shuttle bus to reach is completely unacceptable to the Muslim community.”
Khan and Munawar said if the MSA had to temporarily move to Lot O, students would end up praying in various nooks on campus.
“You can’t fit a thousand Muslim students in hallways of libraries and little corners across campus,” said Khan.
About two weeks ago, representatives from four groups located in the Wentworth House came together in hopes of getting their individual needs across with more impact.
“We’re deeply concerned there hasn’t been uniformity in the communication between McMaster and the tenants,” said Norm Pase, vice-president (external) of CUPE 3906.
Pase started an open Facebook group Monday called “Save Our Space: Wentworth House Shutting Down” to create a forum for the parties involved.
The MACycle bike co-op, owned and operated by the McMaster Students Union, finds itself in the same position as the MSA and CUPE 3906.
MACycle director Connor Bennett knew that relocating would be a big project. He did some research on his own last summer, feeling a “slight sense of urgency.” Even so, he assumed a space would be secured by March.
“When you’re told not to worry, it’s nice to hear, especially when you’re dealing with school. I feel silly at this point, seeing how unprepared they are. Now we’re getting to the end of March and they’re saying, ‘we need your help,’” he said.
Bennett said MACycle having to move twice is the worst-case scenario because it has so many pieces of bike equipment.
“This has worried me a lot. I care about MACycle. A lot of people care about it,” said Bennett. He said that moving to Lot O temporarily would discourage cyclists from using the co-op because of the uphill ride afterward.
Roger Couldrey, McMaster’s vice-president of administration, said he was surprised tenants were worried about going to Lot O. He added that, so far, it’s only been decided that the McMaster Children’s Centre will move there by the end of April.
“It seems that what I’m being told isn’t fully understood by the tenants or wasn’t communicated to them,” he said.
Couldrey said an alternate space would be proposed to the MSA at a meeting on Friday. He said finding a space for MACycle would be more challenging but discussions are still ongoing.
However, Facility Services coordinator Robert Craik confirmed that Lot O would be a default solution if no other arrangements are made by the end of April.
For the tenants, getting mixed messages from Facility Services and the university's administration isn't new. David Campbell, the McMaster Students Union's VP (administration), expressed similar frustrations. He’s been advocating for some of the groups and asking for updates throughout the year.
“The first I heard about the Lot O decision was in January, and I was disappointed that that was the decision they came up with,” said Campbell.
The Photo Club's darkroom manager, Myles Francis, has been reaching out to administrators on his own since last spring, concerned about the darkroom being left behind.
“I felt like if I didn’t go out there and tell people that it existed, the building would have been demolished with the darkroom still there,” said Francis.
The Lodge, a temporary space for off-campus students in Wentworth House this year in lieu of the old Phoenix bar, seems to have been scrapped due to lack of space, according to coordinator Jennifer Kleven.
Francis didn’t want the same thing to happen to the darkroom.
Since February, Francis has been researching darkroom spaces in the downtown core, where he says involved students would be willing to go.
“I don’t like the idea of things being done for me that I feel I should have a hand in. I mean, nowadays who knows how to create a darkroom? Who knows what the darkroom needs, other than me?”
While they’re unsure of long-term plans, tenants aren’t giving up on their cause. But they’re not buying university officials’ advice to not worry.
“I think it’s an issue of prioritization on the university’s end,” Khan said. “Each club has different needs, but we’re united in that we all share the same space. Whatever we can do to help each other, we will.”
Photos by Anqi Shen.