Campus expansion in the works

Buildings like the former Prison for Women may become part of an expanding Queen’s campus, as plans are put in place to renovate campus buildings and relocate several student services and administrative offices.

“If you go back 160 years, space has always been an issue as the campus has developed,” said Andrew Simpson, vice-principal (operations and finance). “The University has always had a need to look for new space. And of course this is a sign of a healthy, growing, prosperous university.”

Properties in which the University has expressed interest are the city-owned J.K. Tett Complex at 370 King Street West, St. Helen’s Building located at 440 King St. West and Stone Gables at 462 King St. West. The latter two buildings are owned by Corrections Canada. The Prison for Women, another property of interest to the University, is in the hands of the Canada Lands Company.

Sheila Hickey, city director of strategic initiatives and communications, said negotiations concerning the possible purchase of the J.K. Tett Complex by the University haven’t yet begun.

“City staff have just become aware of the interest, and they have not actually had an opportunity to meet [with the University],” she said. “Principal [Karen Hitchcock] of the University called a luncheon and one of our councillors attended and our mayor attended briefly ... the interest [in purchasing the property] was expressed at that point but there has been no formal action to sit down and discuss.”

The complex consists of three buildings, one of which has been vacant for some time due to structural issues, she said. Space in the other two buildings is currently rented by several community organizations, including the Kingston Handloom Weavers and Spinners, Girl Guides of Canada, Theatre 5, the volunteer committee of the Kingston Symphony Association, the Andy Fund, the Lapidary Club, Domino Theatre and a dance club.

In an e-mail to the Journal, Dorothy Young, member of the Kingston Handloom Weavers and Spinners and chairperson of an association representing the tenants of the complex, said no decisions have been made regarding the future of the building.

“Any discussion of ownership change and related implications would be purely speculative,” she said.

Hickey said she thinks the “culture cluster” these organizations create is an important part of the Kingston community.

“They provide really important support systems for the city,” she said. “Clusters are an important way to go so that you have different types of programs and services located in close proximity to each other.”

Simpson said the University would be consulting with the tenants, some of whom attended Hitchcock’s luncheon.

“In the case of the arts community, there is an ongoing need to arrange for conversation with people who comprise that community about where we together may have some joint prospects,” he said. He said the reason for calling a private luncheon in lieu of a public meeting was that nothing has yet been decided that can be discussed publicly.

Hickey said she couldn’t state the value of the J.K. Tett Complex, as it is owned by the government. She added that as far as she knows, the University hasn’t made an offer.

“Our process ... would be to meet with University officials, gain an understanding of what they are interested in officially,” she said. “I would think that there would be some discussions that start certainly before the end of the year.” Hickey added the decision of whether or not to sell the property would have to be made by city council.

While Simpson said the tone of the meeting with city councillors and tenants was very positive, he would not disclose names of other property owners to whom the University had spoken regarding possible property purchases, saying that the possibility is “extraordinarily preliminary” at this time.

Holly Knowles, spokesperson for Correctional Services Canada (CSC), said the CSC has had a few meetings with the University since May 2004 regarding other issues. During these meetings, Knowles said, the issue of possibly selling St. Helen’s and Stone Gables has come up.

“Queen’s has asked us about our short-term and long-term plans [for the properties],” Knowles said, adding that while the CSC has no short-term plans to sell, long-term plans for the properties have yet to be determined. In the event that the CSC decides to sell the properties—which are currently used as regional headquarters and office space—the ultimate decision is not up to them.

“It would go through government works because it’s a public facility,” she said.

Knowles added if the needs of CSC headquarters change or expand, they would be more likely to sell.

Norm Jarus, spokesperson for the Canada Lands Company (CLC), said the CLC has been having very positive discussions with the University over the past five months. He said the current deal, which would involve the University acquiring about 50 per cent of the Prison for Women is “very definite.” “We’re working towards trying to finalize a transaction,” he said. “There’s a number of things that have to be completed before the transaction can be closed.”

Jarus said the deal should be closed early next year. He said that, from what he had heard, the University would be using the former prison to house the Queen’s Archives.

“The Canada Lands Company will be developing the remainder of the land not acquired [by the University],” he said. “We’re looking at single family residential [housing].”

Jarus declined to disclose the value of the property or the offer made by the University, citing reasons of confidentiality.

Simpson also declined to comment on the University’s plans for these properties.

“We haven’t reached any conclusions or decisions about any of it,” he said.

Simpson said while another option for development is the existing green space on campus, he doesn’t think it’s an ideal solution.

“I think most members of the community would join me in thinking that [building on green space] would be contradictory to the environment and the quality of the space that we want to have at the heart of our campus,” he said.

Simpson added that trying to find the right solutions is not always easy, and University administrators need to engage a wide variety of partners and stakeholders in trying to arrive at suitable alternatives.

“That’s exactly what we’re trying to begin some conversations about at the moment,” he said.

Back on Union Street, Gordon Hall across from the JDUC has been undergoing renovations for the past year at a cost of $15 million.

“The broad approach with Gordon [Hall] is that it’s going to be a facility that will house many of the key services that students require,” Simpson said. “There’s a range of offices that is going to be relocated.”

He said these include the office of the registrar, office of the dean of student affairs and Career Services, as well as some other student services.

“Gordon Hall was in dire need of upgrade and renewal,” Simpson said. “Its location in terms of proximity to the John Deutsch Centre ... meant that [it] was ideal to locate ... a range of student-related services in one place.”

Simpson added that Richardson Hall may be renovated after many of the offices currently located there are moved to the completed Gordon Hall. He said Gordon Hall is expected to be completed by late January.

He said the proposal to renovate Richardson Hall hasn’t yet been approved.

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