Last updated: October 24, 2011 4:41 pm
Mount Allison University to demolish historic building despite cash offer to save the site
University continues with plans to tear down Memorial Library, states building "still not usable" even if money were spent
SACKVILLE, N.B. (CUP) — One of Mount Allison University's most celebrated and historic buildings is slated to be demolished, despite one alumna's offer of a donation to save the site.
Former Mount Allison alumni president, former member of the Board of Regents, and former member of the Senate, Joan Carlisle-Irving, recently told The Argosy that she attempted to pledge the $5 million required to retain the Memorial Library building this summer, but was told by university administration that it was “much more than the money.”
The Memorial Library, which opened its doors in 1927, was designed by Canadian architect Andrew Randall Cobb and dedicated to university alumni who lost their lives in the First World War. The building later became the University Centre, and was almost completely vacated following the opening of the new Wallace McCain Student Centre in 2008.
In 2004, as Mount Allison embarked on a campaign — entitled the JUMP campaign — to raise $85 million for various campus improvements and initiatives, the university developed plans to build a new facility, the Fine and Performing Arts Centre, around the existing Memorial Library. Last year, however, at a Board of Regents meeting, the university presented a report that suggested they would require an extra $5 million to properly renovate the Memorial Library building and added that students would likely have to shoulder the cost. The board made the decision to construct an entirely new facility.
Upon hearing of the extra money it would cost to convert the current structure into the new Fine and Performing Arts Centre, Carlisle-Irving drafted a letter to university president Robert Campbell and the Board of Regents, stating her intention to donate the money needed to convert the building.
“As a former president of the Mount Allison alumni, I must honour the significance of the library as a gift of the alumni to honour the lives lost in the Great War of 1914–1918,” said Carlisle-Irving. “I feel we cannot ignore the fact that eighty per cent of the cost of the building was raised by alumni across Canada.”
Carlisle-Irving outlined in the letter that she would pledge the necessary $5 million to allow for the conversion of the Memorial Library building to the new arts centre, and further suggested that the building's original plaques engraved with the names of fallen soldiers, currently housed in the new student centre, would be returned to their rightful place and the original name plaque would be replaced over the main entrance.
According to Carlisle-Irving, Mount Allison's vice-president of university advancement Gloria Jollymore visited Carlisle-Irving at her home at the end of August, imploring her not to send the letter with no reason given other than that it was “more than the money.” Carlisle-Irving never sent the letter and withdrew her pledge.
“As soon as I realized that the administration had no intention of fulfilling the JUMP campaign promise to build a new arts centre around the historic memorial library, I withdrew my offer,” she said.
Jollymore declined to comment on whether or not there had been a donation or offer of a donation made by anyone, including Carlisle-Irving.
“We don’t talk about donors and gifts until they are publicly announced,” she explained.
Jollymore also declined to confirm that anyone had made an offer to pledge $5 million to the university.
“I don’t acknowledge that an offer was made; I don’t acknowledge that an offer was refused. It’s just an ethical position we take,” she said.
Jollymore also stated that although early campaign materials for the JUMP campaign did suggest that a new arts centre would be built around the existing Memorial Library, this was before any assessments had been done, and therefore the requirements of the building were unknown.
“After the work was done on the building and we understood what we needed to put in the building, the whole scenario was different, and at that time the materials did not indicate the actual form the building would take,” she said.
Jollymore claims that “no fundraising had been done on that [fine and performing arts centre] project on the basis of the original speculation.” According to Jollymore, there are no university fundraising records of gifts, gestures, or intentions of gifts made prior to the second set of priorities created after the assessments had been done on the building.
“We weren’t talking to anyone about that project because we had to finish the new student centre first,” Jollymore said. She explained that it is very typical for the priorities of a campaign of this magnitude to shift to reflect the changes that occur in an organization.
When asked whether the university would save the Memorial Library if the $5 million were raised, director of communications Tony Frost stated, “It’s not the university's position that it’s only because of funds, and it hasn’t been from the beginning.”
Jollymore clarified that usability is a separate conversation from the money. “The building creates very specific parameters, and even if money were spent, the building is still not usable for the purpose required,” she said.
“We have very specific needs for the arts and drama programs and the existing building doesn’t allow for the layout we need,” said Frost. According to him, only approximately twenty-five per cent of the building is usable, and the specific requirements of the fine arts and drama programs would require the construction of an even larger structure, with most of the original building becoming wasted space.
“Trying to fit [these programs] into an old building that was designed to hold stacks of books is not really realistic,” says Frost.
Deconstruction is now going ahead as planned, despite recent efforts from concerned citizens. This summer, a local group applied for heritage designation in an attempt to save the Memorial Library, which the New Brunswick government declined after the university appealed the action on the basis that Cobb, the building's architect, was not a New Brunswick native.
Earlier this month, a group of alumni also attempted to save the site by filing a lawsuit against the university. On Oct. 7, Justice George S. Rideout dismissed the recent motion for an injunction on the demolition of the former Memorial Library building by members of the Save the Memorial Library Committee. Taking into consideration the plaintiff’s main argument, Justice Rideout concluded that there was no evidence of a trust or contract ever being created between the university and the donors that helped build the Memorial Library in 1927, and therefore the plaintiffs do not have standing to bring the motion before the court.
The decision states that the Save the Memorial Library Committee simply does not like the decision of the university, which does not, according to Justice Rideout, establish a serious issue.
“The issues raised are in the context of this matter, frivolous and vexatious,” Rideout explained in his decision. The Save the Memorial Library Committee was ordered to pay $1,500.00 in court costs to the University.
— With files from John A.W. Brannen and Emma Godmere