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Graduate students from the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape to leave main campus: concerns arise

By Nazeefa Ahmed, February 19 2024—

On Feb. 2, graduate students from the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) were informed that their classes will be moved to the City Building Design Lab (CBDLab) in downtown starting Fall 2024. The decision was sent to students in an email from John Brown, the dean of SAPL. However, according to the SAPL Student Association, there was no consultation of students or faculty about the move.

SAPL opened the CBDLab in 2018 and students in the Master of Architecture, Master of Planning and Master of Landscape Architecture have been attending classes in the building. The new change will move the remaining graduate students so that all of the professional graduate programs are at the CBDLab. 

In a statement to the Gauntlet, Brown explained that the move is meant to benefit students as they will be in closer proximity to city planning hubs.  

“In the same way that a medical school is located in a hospital because that is where healthcare happens, a school of architecture, planning and landscape architecture needs to be embedded downtown because that is where city building happens. Many of the best schools of design in the world are embedded in urban centers and the ability to more fully integrate urban-based experiential work-integrated learning into their professional programs is a significant component of their success,” reads the statement. 

Additionally, Brown states that the move will also provide networking opportunities for students due to location. 

“Our downtown location is much more convenient for practitioners to be involved in the school by attending our monthly lecture series and other public events and exhibitions. These are important opportunities for our students to meet and interact with future employers and collaborators on a more informal basis,” the statement continues. 

After the dean’s email, the SAPL Student Association collected 77 student responses through an anonymous survey. In an interview with the Gauntlet, SAPL Student Association Vice President Internal Sidrah Anees described how student survey responses overwhelmingly expressed concern about the move.

“We asked people to be honest and share if they were happy about the move because we wanted to get an accurate understanding of students’ feelings on the situation, but overwhelmingly they were negative,” said Anees.  

The survey responses were summarized and sent to the Dean’s email on Feb. 9. Anees said that students had many concerns about the new building, such as health risks due to a mice infestation. 

“We were told that there is an ongoing mouse infestation,” said Anees. “I have seen the mice firsthand. There was a situation where there was a printer malfunctioning, and when it was opened up to see what the problem was, it was because it was full of mice that were living in it.”

Since the CBDLab is in downtown, students also expressed concern over safety as there have been break-ins.

“Students have seen people overdosing,” said Anees. “Students have been threatened and harassed entering the building. Students have had people try to follow them into the building.”

“An additional health and safety concern is because there is no wood shop or workshop facilities at that campus to the same level as the main campus students aren’t allowed to use power tools inside. So sometimes you’ll see students working in the loading dock or in the parking lot behind the building, which is unsafe,” Anees continued. 

Lastly, Anees describes how the facilities are inadequate, with a lack of washrooms and uncomfortable heating conditions. 

“[There is] a lack of adequate washroom facilities [and] ventilation concerns,” said Anees. “Students have been complaining of headaches when working in that campus for prolonged periods. There’s also frequent malfunctions of the HVAC system. So it’s either too hot or too cold in the building.”

In the survey, students were also asked what solutions they would propose. The main strategies provided were to keep students on the main campus or massively upgrading the CBDLab to meet educational standards. 

“The primary solution was to keep the programs at the main campus,” said Anees. “Students suggested completing a spatial analysis of the professional faculty’s building and making efficient choices regarding space allocation to see if there’s a way to fit all of the students in this faculty.”

“The second suggestion, and this was a major one, was significant improvements at the CBDLab campus,” said Anees. “So addressing the mouse infestation, adding additional washroom facilities, adding power plugs to classrooms and workspaces, opening up new classrooms and workspaces, fixing the heating and cooling systems, enhancing securities, and generally offering a complete renovation of the downtown campus to meet higher standards and offer high quality of education,” Anees continued.

In a response to the email from students, Brown is to host a town hall on Feb. 22. Brown’s statement to the Gauntlet explained how the town hall aims to consult students and listen to their concerns. 

“The goal of the town hall is to better understand the concerns students have about our downtown building. We have been working closely with students and faculty throughout our six years downtown to continually adapt the former central public library building to better suit our evolving needs. This townhall is part of that process and we are committed to continue working with our students to make a positive learning environment that will provide the best preparation for professional practice,” reads the statement. 

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Anees hopes that the town hall will address the complaints the SAPL Student Association has received since the decision.  

“We’re hoping that we see a serious commitment to student engagement and consultation in future space allocation,” said Anees. “We’re hoping that we’re going to see a detailed plan on how the department plans to address the major concerns that were raised by students in the anonymous survey and a timeline to address these concerns prior to the move, and without disruption to current students at that campus.”

More information about the SAPL Student Association can be found on their website

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