Controversy over Union Street plans

Preliminary proposals mark Grad Club for demolition

Preliminary design concepts presented at a public consultation meeting May 5 for the Union Street Improvement Project called for destruction of part or all of The Grad Club.
Preliminary design concepts presented at a public consultation meeting May 5 for the Union Street Improvement Project called for destruction of part or all of The Grad Club.
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The future of The Grad Club was called into question May 5 at a public information meeting held by the Union Street Improvement Project.

Both preliminary design concepts proposed called for the destruction of all or part of the campus hangout, which is located at the northwest corner of Barrie and Union streets.

“I’ve heard a lot of alarm bells, but I am assuring all concerned people that this is just an idea for discussion; that’s the stage we’re at right now,” said project director Jeanne Ma.

Ma, who is also the director of Campus Planning and Development, said it is still very early in the design process and there are no firm plans to demolish anything yet.

“This is a reiterative process,” she said. “We will continue to listen to feedback we are receiving and try to create a design that is satisfactory to the most people.”

SGPS President Dave Thomas said he thinks the project team didn’t understand the ramifications of its proposals.

“The problem is that these proposals were created by the external consultants and brought to campus before running it by anyone before the meeting,” he said.

Thomas, who also sits on The Grad Club’s Board of Directors and the Campus Planning and Development Committee, said the project team should have consulted The Grad Club’s stakeholders before the creation and presentation of these proposals.

“There was a lack of publicity around the plans and the public meetings,” he said. “The only place I saw it advertised was in the Gazette, and in that ad there was nothing about The Grad Club being affected.”

Neither the SGPS, The Grad Club’s Board of Directors, nor the manager of The Grad Club were consulted or informed about the possible consequences of the proposals prior to the public meeting, Thomas said.

“If the part of the proposal which called for The Grad Club to be destroyed was advertised, the room would have been full with people speaking out against it,” he said.

The University started planning to improve Union Street between Albert and Barrie streets with a mandate of providing “a comprehensive and cohesive vision for Union Street and a conceptual framework to guide future capital and renovation projects along the street.”

The current proposals require construction at the northwest corner of Union and Barrie streets, where The Grad Club is located.

One design concept includes a gateway or marked entrance into campus, and the other concept calls for a traffic circle to be constructed at the intersection.

The project is currently in the preliminary design and public consultation stage. There still remains a lengthy process of public consultation and review, and the city and the University must approve the project. The University must also approve funding for the project, which it has not yet done.

“These are simply ideas that have been presented for discussion,” Ma said. “It was important for us to bring ideas to the public before we work any further on the project.”

Thomas said he feels there was enough opposition to the current proposals at the consultation meeting to convince the project team to adjust their designs.

“I got the sense that by the end of the meeting, they had already changed their mind about the current proposals,” he said. “They seemed convinced that it wasn’t a good idea.

“There were some people who felt that there should be a more pronounced entrance into campus, but everyone spoke in favour of ideas that could work around any destruction of The Grad Club.”

In addition to improving the aesthetics of the street, the goals of the project include integrating the main campus crossroads of Union Street and University Avenue into a cohesive image, improving conditions for pedestrians and cyclists and calming vehicular traffic.

“One of the weaknesses on the street is that there is no sense of presence or arrival into campus,” Ma said.

Ma cited the University of Western Ontario and the University of Toronto as examples of schools with clearly defined gateways into their campuses.

Virginia Clark, manager of The Grad Club, said she was unable to attend the information meeting because she was out of town. She only learned of the possible effects on The Grad Club later that night, when she returned to Kingston, she said.

Ma said that when The Grad Club’s patio on the corner of Barrie and Union streets was approved last year, the Club was warned there might be other changes made to that corner.

“The patio was approved with that understanding,” Ma said.

However, Clark said only the patio was in question at that time.

“At the time the patio was approved, [Campus Planning and Design] said the sidewalk could be enlarged and we might have to move part of the patio, but there was never any mention of the project affecting the actual house,” she said.

The current proposals don’t include any possible relocation plans for The Grad Club.

“To talk about relocation would be premature,” Ma said. “The proposal is still just an idea; it has no official status.”

Both Clark and Thomas said that if the project team continued to propose design concepts affecting The Grad Club, there would be significant opposition from the SGPS and The Grad Club’s Board of Directors.

However, Thomas said the consultants had already adjusted their original proposals only a day after the public information meeting, at a Campus Planning and Development Committee meeting.

“[The design consultants] recognized that any plan would have to accommodate the continued existence of The Grad Club,” he said in an e-mail to the Journal.

This September the project team will recommend one design concept for review by the project committee. Another public information meeting will follow. A project website will be available within weeks.

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