New Balsillie school will be 'functional, not fancy'
(By Greg Mercer, THE RECORD, January 8, 2008)
With a nod to the city's industrial past, and an eye to a green future, designers unveiled plans for an uptown school that aims to attract sharp minds from around the world.
To be built on land where whisky barrels used to roll, the Balsillie School of International Affairs will transform the empty Seagram's distillery site into a walkable, tree-lined campus with understated brick buildings, living roofs, a public auditorium and central courtyard.
"This is an institution that will go head to head with the rest of the world," declared Shirley Blumberg, principle architect for the project.
She's a partner in Toronto firm Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg, the people who designed Kitchener City Hall and the Grand Valley Institute for Women.
Speaking at a packed open house at the Centre for International Governance Innovation last night, Blumberg said the school was designed to be "functional but not fancy," as per the wishes of its namesake and chief bankroller, Research In Motion co-CEO Jim Balsillie.
Balsillie is giving $33 million to the new school, while University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University will add $25 million over 10 years.
The site, bordered by Erb Street, Caroline Street and Father David Bauer Drive, connects to the Centre for International Governance Innovation.
The project will be built in phases, with ground preparation beginning by the end of this year.
City council will be asked to approve the site's master plan on Feb. 23.
Although the economic downturn will affect the timing of later construction, the section housing the Balsillie school will be the first to be finished. It's designed to hold about 25 faculty, plus another 70 to 100 students.
Later plans call for another academic wing to hold other university programs, plus a proposed 12-storey building that would serve as housing for faculty and students and an underground parking garage.
The iconic Seagram's barrel pyramid may be moved from the site to make room for the new buildings, said project consultant Chris Pidgeon.
More than 100 residents crowded last night's meeting, but most questions revolved around how the school would affect traffic problems on surrounding streets.
To make Caroline Street more pedestrian-friendly, the city is looking at reducing the road from four lanes to two.
Most, though, seemed impressed with what designers were proposing.
"I've been involved with city planning for the past 40 years and this is the best plan I've seen in all that time," said Waterloo's John Shortreed.