Historic Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre enters next stage of redevelopment

Extensive renovations part of an asset management strategy, under development, looking at university's buildings.

One of the University of Alberta's most historic buildings is entering a new stage of redevelopment, part of a strategy to consolidate space for staff and programming, while providing the best facilities for academic and research needs.

Next month, exterior demolitions to the Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre will begin on portions of the east and west wings, as well as the entire north wing, which will be replaced with an integrated addition. A new welcoming entrance and porch will be built onto the east wing for greater accessibility and natural light.

"It will be a space where people from across campus can come and meet each other, somewhat like a marketplace," said university architect Ben Louie, who is part of a team to oversee the repurpose and renewal project planned for completion in about five years.

"It will continue being a strong architectural showcase that supports greater convening space for students and administrative efficiencies," added Andrew Sharman, vice-president of facilities and operations at the university.

For the past year, work crews have been removing hazardous materials and other redundant building materials from the 97-year-old building's interior, said Louie.

Windows will be replaced and upgraded throughout, along with electrical and mechanical systems, as the design team aims for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certification. A "social street" is being proposed to support "future programmatic activities," said Louie.

"This is smart growth. We actively look at each phase of the life cycle of our buildings and for some, we actually reinvent it to be regenerative and serve the institution's next life-a second life," added Sharman.

"Overall, what people will see with the Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre is an enduring 97-year-old building in good health, connecting with the rest of the campus through geography, history, purpose and meaning. It's a chance for everyone on campus to say, this is ours-a front door and showcase to represent who we are and what we're best at."

Managing assets

The university manages almost 20 million square feet of infrastructure and nearly 500 buildings across five campuses. This is the largest volume of infrastructure assets among Canadian universities, and with it come high operating, maintenance and renewal costs.

Over the months and years ahead, the university will look at the stage of each building, its architectural history, alignment to the academic and research mission, and its viability.

"We're going to look at what we need to have for our core mission," explained Sharman, adding some tough decisions will have to be made. "There will be some that we can no longer support because they're either not salvageable, cost too much or don't serve the purpose of the university."

He pointed to Soaring House as an example. The home that Sandy and C├ęcile Mactaggart donated to the university in 2010 was shuttered due to the cost of maintenance and the inaccessibility of the property.

"It doesn't suit the university's needs for event or meeting space, so its future remains to be seen," he said.

Sharman also pointed out the importance of protecting the university's architectural history, highlighting the renovations recently completed on Emily Murphy House, Triffo Hall and the Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre renewal.

He said the decisions being considered for the university's infrastructure are guided by a broader integrated asset management strategy, currently under development. The strategy will support the university's academic and research needs, and the sustainability and long-term viability of its buildings.