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Letter: Sudbury’s school of architecture building must be protected

As Laurentian reviews its real-estate holdings, a chair of the steering committee that preceded the McEwen School of Architecture says the downtown building must not be sold off
McEwen School of Architecture, Laurentian University architecture school, architecture school, McEwen School of Architecture summer

Laurentian University (LU) is presently proceeding under the Companies Creditor Arrangement Act (CCAA). LU has a lot of debt that it needs to repay.

As part of that process, the court-appointed monitor is conducting a real estate review to determine the assets, land, building and infrastructure needs for the future restructured LU. The review will identify assets to be sold, in order to pay down LU’s debt. 

The community has expressed considerable and very valid concerns about the potential loss of any of LU’s massive greenspace.

Another real concern is the potential impact of the real estate review, on the McEwen School of Architecture (MSoA).

To the uninformed, the MSoA building may appear as an easily monetized asset. It’s easy — just sell the downtown building and move the architecture program to the main campus.

Unfortunately, the reality is that would be disastrous for the architecture program, the university, the downtown and the community. 

Unlike most LU buildings, the MSoA was started by the community. The City of Greater Sudbury contributed $10 million of our tax dollars, with the proviso that the School of Architecture be located in the downtown. 

The goal of the downtown location was to contribute to its badly needed revitalization. In its short life, the school has done that, bringing new life and vitality with more than 350 students and faculty, creating a dramatic cultural and economic impact. In addition, MSoA continues to trigger new development downtown.

Contrary to recent and past media reports, it is important to understand that MSoA did not add to LU’s debt, because the funding for the MSoA was provided by new municipal, provincial and federal money of more than $41 million, plus the final $10 million gift from the McEwens to LU. 

The MSoA building is an architectural gem that was intentionally designed as a teaching tool, integral to the architecture program. It has been touted by the international media as one of the 15 best schools of architecture buildings in the world. Also, the recent accreditation team described it as the finest architecture facility in Canada. Abandoning this internationally significant building would devastate a fledgling world class program. Clearly, this is a signature program that is destined to play a critical role for a restructured LU. 

Unfortunately, the CCAA process is cloaked in secrecy and has not allowed any community input. 

In light of the decisions that the CCAA monitor will make regarding liquidating certain assets, it is essential for everyone to understand the importance of the MSoA and the reasons that it must be protected in its downtown location.

I write this letter to encourage all citizens of Sudbury to join me and the undersigned to petition those with influence – mayor and city council, provincial MPPs and federal MPs — Don’t sell the school; keep MSoA where it is.  

Blaine Nicholls, 

Fellow - Royal Architectural Institute of Canada

Chairman, original School of Architecture Project Steering committee

Member, McEwen International Advisory Board