An update on our Integrated Asset Management Strategy

The strategy will allow us to ensure our facilities support the renewal and growth of the U of A’s global leadership in higher education for the public good.

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From COVID-19, to financial realities, and a period of transformation, the current context that we find ourselves in has underscored how essential our Integrated Asset Management Strategy (IAMS) is, and how it will continue to guide us through the ever-changing world within which we live. As the U of A for Tomorrow comes to fruition, IAMS will allow us to make sure our facilities support the renewal and growth of the U of A’s global leadership in higher education for the public good.

The strategy continues to be the roadmap for the institution. Approved by the Board of Governors in 2019, the strategy brings all campus space planning and asset management strategies under one umbrella. IAMS evaluates how we can proactively tackle our significant deferred maintenance burden while maximizing our use of good space.

Today I was joined by members of our community to discuss the progress of IAMS. During the conversation, I provided updates on the current activities supported by the strategy, including space planning, utilization and optimization. For those of you who were unable to attend, I’d like to share these updates with you here.

The Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre

This renewal is entering a new phase of planning and design, starting with interior redevelopment of the structure, with an eye to adapt and reuse existing materials. Select features that exemplify the building’s past are being restored, demonstrating the architectural achievements of their era — ensuring that they blend with the redeveloped spaces of the building. The 1922 exterior has been preserved, highlighting architecturally significant features that reflect the time in which it was built.

Upon completion, this iconic building will provide additional modernized spaces for our community. It will also allow us to relocate a number of academic and administrative activities, which helps to reduce our growing deferred maintenance burden overall.

Future Renewal Projects

Apart from our two largest capital projects, Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre and the Lister Centre renewals, we are also looking to begin a number of projects next year. These include a long-overdue replacement of the heating system in the Henry Marshall Tory Building, continued upgrades to the Central Academic Building, ongoing renovations to Chemistry Centre (East and West), as well as critical maintenance services to be completed on a number of our elevators campus-wide. These projects will help with accessibility and safety.

Reducing our deferred maintenance liabilities

Wherever practical, we strive to extend the life of our existing infrastructure. Given that the U of A has the largest inventory of facilities assets among Canadian universities, and limited resources, this is unfortunately not always possible. The decision to decommission or demolish any of the university’s infrastructure is never easy, with many factors guiding the decision.

2020 saw the decommissioning of Michener Park and the removal of Alumni House. These buildings were at the end of their life cycles, unsafe for occupants and had enormous deferred maintenance costs.

The Ring Houses on North Campus are also unfortunately set for decommissioning and removal. The history of these houses will always be part of the university story; however, they have sadly not withstood the test of time. The ongoing costs needed to make and keep them safe are unsustainable. Given their size and purpose-built design as individual family dwellings, they do not provide adequate space for modern teaching, research, or work activities. While we’ve done our best to make the most of them, they have failed to meet the space needs of our modern community and we need to focus our limited resources into buildings that do.

Items from the Ring Houses will be maintained as part of a U of A Museums collection. The stories of the homes will forever be part of who we are, even if the bricks and mortar of the houses have expired. Anyone willing and able to relocate and maintain any or one of the houses is invited to do so.

Looking ahead, the North-west corner of our campus will form a green space — one that provides our community with a place to enjoy the beauty of the river valley. It will provide another outdoor option for students looking for a space to study and for instructors to teach in the warmer months. Long term planning for the space will align with the university’s Long-range Development Plan and the evolving needs of the university community.

A collage of four images of each of the four ring houses.

Optimizing Spaces: What to expect

To reduce our reliance on leased space we need to make better use of university owned spaces. As teams come together through SET, space densification will allow us to help those teams come together physically too (when we are able to do so safely post-COVID-19, of course). Enterprise Square has long been one of our under-utlized spaces, and is set to become a more active location for us. The same will be true for the North Power Plant.

Enterprise Square building
North Power Plant building
Enterprise Square (above) and North Power Plant (below).

COVID-19 Impacts

During the town hall, there was a question about how and if COVID-19 may impact our work environments — specifically, on the use of open concept offices. As we’ve learned throughout the pandemic, we have to start thinking about space differently and especially how we share and best utilize our space for teaching, learning and research. It’s still too soon to say if COVID-19 will radically alter our spaces for the long-term. We do know for certain though that these last eleven months have demonstrated our community’s ability to adapt and carry forward in ways that we could have never imagined this time last year.

Our community is a resilient and ever changing one, and our integrated asset management strategy will allow us to continue moving forward.

Andrew Sharman
Vice-president (Facilities & Operations)