College Building doors reopen
Story & photos by Colleen MacPherson
With the simple unveiling of a plaque Sept. 6, U of S President Peter MacKinnon finally saw the College Building returned to its former status as campus centrepiece, an event he has waited for since he took office.
In Nobel Plaza before a crowd of dignitaries and University faculty and staff, MacKinnon and Saskatchewan Premier Lorne Calvert shared the unveiling duties, ending over two years and about $20.6 million worth of work on the building that was designated a provincial heritage property in 1982 and a National Historic Site in 2001. Built between 1910-12, it was partially vacated in 1984 when crumbling support pillars caused significant sagging. The deterioration continued and the building was abandoned completely in 1997.
In an interview prior to the rededication, MacKinnon said he is “enormously relieved” the project is complete. Since becoming president seven years ago, he has found it “unimaginable that we could let the building deteriorate to the point of collapse”.
The original plan for the restoration, which a University official once equated to replacing the bones of a human skeleton from the inside, envisioned the cost divided three ways between the University, the province and the federal government. Saskatchewan committed nearly $7 million from its Centenary Fund and the University secured its contribution but the federal portion has never materialized. Facing the threat of seeing the building collapse, the University opted to proceed by shouldering two-thirds of the cost.
Discussions with federal officials have gone on since 2000 “and we continue to work to secure a federal contribution,” said MacKinnon, “but I would not bet my life on it. There is enough of a connection to the country as a whole to justify a federal interest in the project but, at the same time, the project does not fit neatly and nicely into most existing federal government programs.”
In hindsight, MacKinnon said, the decision to proceed without federal government involvement was the right one. With costs skyrocketing in the construction sector, contractors have told MacKinnon that to undertake the same project now would be cost prohibitive.
Emceed by University Chancellor Tom Molloy, the rededication ceremony included remarks about the historic significance of the building by University Architect Colin Tennent and the comment that the difficult restoration was “the most significant (historical conservation) undertaking in Canada outside the Parliament Buildings”.
In his remarks, Calvert spoke of the significant role the building has played in the history of the province, in both good times and bad, and described its refurbishment as “a gift to our future”.
The official ceremony kicked off a week of activities that included a reception for contractors and tradespeople who worked on the building, public tours, music events and a lecture about heritage conservation.
Quick College Building facts:
Historic Reconstruction Shopping List
1335 cubic meters of concrete