By Scott Strasser, November 22 2016 —
University of Calgary drama students are upset with the state of their workspace in the basement of Craigie Hall — a week after it became public that the U of C’s deferred maintenance bill currently nears half a billion dollars.
Members of the Drama Undergraduate Society (DUS) discussed several issues that students in the department have with the building’s deteriorating conditions at a club meeting on Nov. 18.
Now 50 years old, Craigie Hall has a controversial history at the U of C wrought with asbestos scandals, insect infestations and occasional student backlash over the state of the facility.
Third-year drama student and DUS president Jocelyn Spielman said she sometimes feels the university doesn’t care about the drama department as much as others.
“The university as a whole just puts us down here and doesn’t seem to care, especially when other faculties are getting brand new stuff it doesn’t seem they totally need,” she said. “We’re just down here wanting functional bathrooms and not water-stained tiles.”
Issues cited at the Nov. 18 meeting included broken or malfunctioning toilets, chipped wall paint, mouldy walls and ceilings, electrical plug-ins that don’t work and exposed wires, among others.
The students also brought up a ceiling collapse in the basement that occurred over the summer.
“They recently fixed it, but in a women’s bathroom there used to be a giant hole in the ceiling. There are often toilets that don’t work. It’s just less than ideal conditions,” Spielman said.
Student backlash over Craigie Hall is not new. In 2005, then-Students’ Union fine arts representative Dustyn Richardson brought some of the building’s issues to light when he made a short-film featuring complaints from fine arts students. Gripes at that time included speakers not working, soundproofing falling off walls, ceiling leaks, sparking electrical outlets and broken heating in some of the music practice rooms.
At the Nov. 18 meeting, fourth-year drama student Danelle White said ventilation in Craigie Hall’s basement is sometimes shut off after 5:00 p.m., meaning the classrooms can become dusty when students continue working there into the evening.
“The spaces aren’t necessarily cleaned frequently,” White said. “They’re quite dirty. I have a dust allergy [and] I often go home with my face red because it’s not being taken care of.”
First-year drama student Aaron Walsh said he hadn’t fully realized the extent of Craigie Hall’s infrastructure issues before enrolling at the U of C.
“I’d been in Craigie before I came here but I hadn’t really seen some of the spaces. To be honest, I was pretty disappointed — besides our theatres — when I came down here to see the actual workspaces,” Walsh said.
The DUS meeting comes shortly after a Postmedia story that reported the U of C’s price tag for deferred maintenance is currently pegged at $490 million — a $9-million increase from a March 2015 estimate, according to a recent U of C Management and Discussion Analysis.
Deferred maintenance includes postponements of infrastructural repairs and facility upkeep.
U of C associate vice-president facilities development Boris Dragicevic says deferred maintenance at the university is looked at campus-wide, meaning no particular building has priority over others — though the bulk of the U of C’s deferred maintenance projects take place in the campus’ older buildings.
“Deferred maintenance to us is a piece we have to address in every building at all times on an ongoing basis,” Dragicevic said. “We own these buildings forever and they’re not going away, so we can’t put it off or focus on a [single] building.”
Much of the funding for deferred maintenance falls at the hands of the Alberta government through the Infrastructure Maintenance Program (IMP). This year, the New Democratic Party government increased the U of C’s IMP funding for 2016–17 from $10.9 million to over $14 million.
Dragicevic said the U of C is aware of Craigie Hall’s problems and that in the coming year, the university plans to invest over $1 million into the facility.
“Right now, I think we have two washroom renos underway there. That’s part of that core area we’ll be going in to address,” he said. “We’re not ignoring [Craigie Hall] and we definitely take it seriously, like every other building on campus.”
But some DUS members are not convinced the $1-million investment will be able to fix all the issues in the drama department’s workspaces.
“I don’t think it’s geared necessarily towards [us],” third-year drama student Michael Luong said. “It’s going to go towards linguistics, the upper-level floors. The basement floor where a lot of us hang out and have classes may not necessarily be touched. They did renovations to the washrooms upstairs but the ones down here are still crap.”
Dragicevic said maintenance work is based on the needs of a building and not specific programs or faculties.
“We prioritize work based on a balanced approach to all needs, with safety being first and foremost,” he said.
Dragicevic said the university has a system for building occupants to bring forth maintenance requests.
“We collect this information through our Customer Care Centre and our online request systems called Archibus,” Dragicevic said.
According to U of C facilities management, there were 10,532 work requests in Craigie Hall between May 2010 and August 2016. Those requests cost the U of C approximately $2.1 million and equated to around 20,500 hours of labour.
A previous version of this article stated that deferred maintenance needs at the U of C increased by $40 million between March 2015 and the present. The increase over that time was actually $9 million. The Gauntlet apologizes to readers for this error.