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The University of Alberta intends to get rid of a 50-year-old building that served as a hub for arts education for decades.
The Humanities Center is along Saskatchewan Drive, near the northeast corner of the university’s main campus. The U of A is currently evaluating the building for “space optimization” with the future goal of removing it from its inventory, according to a statement from a university spokesperson.
Removing the building from inventory could result in the rental of the property and the reinvestment of funds, the temporary closure of the building, or the demolition of the structure.
“University of Alberta campuses are being built and adapted to the evolving research, teaching and learning needs of our community,” spokesperson Michael Brown said in an email.
“Our asset management strategy ensures that changes to our campuses align with this core mission of research, teaching and learning, while considering options for renewal, decommissioning or removal of buildings.”
Brown said the center has a “considerable amount” of current and planned deferred maintenance, so removing it would ultimately eliminate operational costs and liability for deferred maintenance.
No concrete plan or timeline is in place, Brown said.
This comes as the university is undergoing a major restructuring in response to cuts to its operating grant by the provincial government.
Carolyn Sale, an English teacher and elected arts representative on the general faculty board, said the potential loss of the humanities building is symbolic of a devaluation of the humanities.
“If we lose this building, it’s a loss of integral space, but also a kind of integral dimension of the university,” Sale said.
The Humanities Center was built in 1972. It houses the Department of English and Film Studies, an Indigenous student gathering space, Faculty of Arts undergraduate student services, and the office of the Dean of faculty of arts.
The university plans to move these units to another space in two to three years, promising that they will be closer to other staff.
“I just don’t understand how we can be locked in another building,” Sale said. “But for any department, it’s important to have your home space with some kind of integrity.”
The building also includes small and medium-sized classrooms that are fundamental to teaching the humanities, Sale said.
“The last thing you want is to move to large lecture halls with much larger class sizes. It’s going to have a really negative impact on students to lose that kind of space.”
Christian Fotang, external vice president of the U of A Student Union, said deferred maintenance and student safety were an ongoing concern for some infrastructure at the university.
Beyond security, the main concern of the union is whether the spaces removed are properly replaced.
“For us, it’s about making sure student places aren’t severely hampered as a result of cuts,” Fotang said.