On September 6 1969, Thomas J. Bata Library officially opened and became the main library of Trent University. Housing friendships, group projects, and sleepless nights during exam season, Bata Library has become a second home for many of its students. That is, except for those that began their studies at Trent in the fall of 2017. The last day of exams marked the closing of Bata Library to begin a renovation project on Trent University grounds, to both upkeep and upgrade the structural foundations and the facilities of the Library. The $18-million project includes various new features and facilities that the renovated Bata Library will offer.

“Books are starting to return from storage to be restocked by library staff,” stated the Bata Library Transformation webpage in its August 20 photo gallery update. Photo via Trent University.

According to the university webpage, these renovations will include more study space by removing stacks of books that are considered unused and digitizing them. Three research centres will open in the library that furthermore expand Trent’s interest and work on research, which are the Trent Centre for Aging and Society, the Indigenous Environmental Studies Research Centre, and the Canadian Environmental Modelling Centre. Two visualization labs that include but are not limited to virtual realities and 3D printing will be open for teaching and research purposes. A green wall will welcome students to the library and promote environmental sustainability, and presentation practice rooms will facilitate individual and group projects for students. These are only some of the exciting new features that the Bata Library renovations entail.

The timeline presented by the university gave an expected opening of September 2018, with no exact given date. Falling a month behind schedule, the university states the library is 90% complete thus far. By visiting the Bata Transformation webpage, one can see a photo gallery (updated on October 1) which gives a visual of the progress made. This has perhaps been the only way that students have been kept updated with the progress of the library, as the administration has not taken upon themselves to communicate with students directly, leaving controversy and worry among the student body. Arthur has contacted members of the Facilities Management department at Trent University; however since they were all busy at work, no one was able to chat with Arthur at the time. The organization was then directed to the Communications department, which were able to send the newspaper nebulous written responses to questions on the library’s progress.

So what does the remaining 10% of the renovation entail? According to the Communications department, a number of different things.

“For instance, there are some changes to the HVAC and other building systems mandated as a result of the building inspection process. In addition, some finishing work (e.g. cabinetry, painting, installing door locks, etc.) is still to be completed,” the department wrote.

Regarding study spaces for students, with the growing population of Trent, the department has assured that “there will be more study space for students with the transformation of Bata Library. There are also 12 new bookable group study rooms, a bookable presentation practice room, new casual seating areas, a quiet study lounge, a living green wall, and updated individual study tables. Attention has also been paid to preserving and refreshing much of the original Ron Thom décor and furnishings. Overall, the spaces dedicated to students’ collaborative and individual study are a vast improvement over what existed prior to the transformation.”

“The new living wall is in place and ready to be planted,” stated the Bata Library Transformation webpage in its August 20 photo gallery update. Photo via Trent University.

It is also believed that there is confusion amongst the student body on what exactly the Bata Research Innovation Cluster entails exactly. The Communications department clarified that “[t]he Bata Research and Innovation Cluster (BRIC) is a term that was put forward in the application to the federal Strategic Innovation Fund, and documents related to provincial funding, to denote Trent’s plan for the integration of library facilities and services with collaborative, research and community spaces in the Bata Library building. The term was used to demonstrate how Trent would meet funding criteria and create a “library of the future.” The BRIC will be reflected, not as a name, but rather as a concept reflected across the facility, the activities of its new units, and services that have been added to the library throughout the Bata space. The library building will continue to be called Bata Library.”

Regarding the delayed opening of the library, the university attributed such delays to common construction challenges, such as having to relocate some spaces on the plans to better accommodate the structural limitations of the 49-year old Bata building. However, the university has not been forthcoming on such delays, and have not been communicative with the student body. Is the lack of updates due to a further underlying reason to such delays?

One student shares, “I expected a two-week delay, not two months. We as students haven’t received anything from the administration so far, not even an email, updating us on the library.”

While it is common for delays to occur during any construction process, the contractors that are currently building the library have been going through what seems like a rough patch.

Bondfield Construction Company Ltd. is a family-owned business based in Vaughan, Ontario, and claim that the company “has earned its reputation for excellence based on sound fiscal management, leading best practices, client-focused service and a commitment to delivering construction projects on time and on budget.” However, since the beginning of 2018, Bondfield Construction has had three of their public sector projects terminated, whilst many of their other projects are facing extreme delays. This is said to be due to the company’s inability to pay subcontractors for projects, and laborers have had to take extreme action in order to receive payment.

The longest delay is faced by the Cambridge Memorial Hospital, an approximately $180-million project that is 22 months behind schedule. Bondfield is also the company responsible for the much anticipated renovations at Union Station in the heart of downtown Toronto, and is nine months behind schedule. The city of Toronto initially hired Carillion Canada Inc. in 2010 to refurbish the historical century old building. Out of three phases to complete the Union Station project, Carillion only finished the first phase. Due to financial problems at Carillion, the city hired Bondfield to carry out the second and third phase. This led to an increase of the budget from approximately $600 million to $800 million. The new anticipated opening date is in January 2019.

Commuters walk through construction work at Union Station in Toronto on Friday, August 31, 2018. Photo by Christopher Katsarov via The Globe and Mail.

When Bondfield ran behind schedule with the Bata Library renovations, Trent University stepped in and ensured that financial issues would not cause further delay in the construction process. Whilst the exact timeline and figures are currently unclear, the university has fundraised finances to facilitate completion, and is containing the delays to open as soon as possible.

In comparison to the delayed projects under Bondfield Construction, Trent is not undergoing the worst of the delays, and the university is doing its best in a situation where they have limited control, since the occupancy of the Bata Library is currently under ownership of Bondfield and not the university. However, given these circumstances, why hasn’t the university reached out to it’s students with an update? Why hasn’t the timeline been updated to consider such delays? There needs to be some consideration for students regarding some information on the library’s progress that is further than “90% complete,” and more towards why the last 10% is missing.

President of the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) Brandon Remmelgas shared his opinion on the matter, stating, “A communication plan needs to be put in place so that the students can plan their semester and know when to expect relief from what’s feeling like a bit of a crunch.”

The university is working tirelessly to complete the renovations as quickly as possible; however, no set opening date has been made. There have been talks and hopes that the library will begin opening during reading break, to limit disturbances made to students, for an open library upon their return. However, it is believed that Bondfield Construction is planning to give up occupancy of the building at the end of the month.

Basically, who knows? A stop at a two-month delay is all the community can hope for, and if the delay extends beyond two months hopefully students will find an email from the administration with some form of update. Well, there you have it folks! Your 10% update on the library we have all been waiting for. Let’s look forward to the 5% update next issue.

“New furniture ready and awaiting its final placement,” stated the Bata Library Transformation webpage in its October 1 photo gallery update. Photo via Trent University.