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Renovated warehouse may house University of Saskatchewan architecture school

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by Patricia Williams

The University of Saskatchewan is taking a hard look at setting up a school of architecture, possibly in a historic downtown warehouse in Saskatoon.
University of Saskatchewan looking to set up school in former warehouse
University of Saskatchewan looking to set up school in former warehouse

The University of Saskatchewan is taking a hard look at setting up a school of architecture, possibly in a historic downtown warehouse in Saskatoon.

Colin Tennent, associate vice-president, of the facilities management division and the university architect, said there is a solid business and academic case for such a venture, which has the blessing of the Saskatchewan Association of Architects.

At its annual general meeting last June, association members voted unanimously in favour of the move.

“I think the entire profession in the province recognizes just how vital such a school is and what a great contribution it would make in terms of cultural enhancement and as a catalyst for urban renewal,” Tennent said.

Establishment of the school requires approvals from the university itself as well as the provincial government. Currently, Saskatchewan is one of the few provinces without a school of architecture.

Tennent, who has a master’s degree in architecture, said the four-storey, city-owned John Deere warehouse appears at first glance to be “a really good fit” for the proposed architecture school.

The university is currently conducting a condition assessment of the 16,000-square-foot building, located at the edge of the city’s north downtown area. The city has offered the building to the university.

Tennent said a “very preliminary” schematic design has been undertaken to gauge the building’s suitability to house the architecture school “and to get some kind of an estimate as to what we would be looking at” in terms of renovation costs.

Constructed in 1910, the building is the oldest on the city yards site. It was originally used for agricultural equipment storage and sales before being purchased by the city in 1961.

“I think everyone is convinced that a school of architecture in that location would be a powerful catalyst for cultural and urban transformation,” Tennent said.

Saskatoon architect Charles Olfert, a principal in the architecture and interior design firm of Olfert Dressel Burnyeat Tracey Ltd., said the proposal has been rapidly gaining steam in the community at large.

“The groundswell of support has been quite unbelievable,” said Olfert, who represents Saskatchewan and Manitoba on the board of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada/Architecture Canada.

Currently, students must leave the province to study architecture and many don’t return, creating a shortage of skilled professionals at a time that the province’s economy is booming.

“We have a tough time recruiting folks back to Saskatchewan,” Olfert said, noting that his firm has architects on staff who have graduated from universities in the states of New York, Texas and Montana.

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