An unholy row has broken out on the campus of bucolic Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B.
Contemplating the needs of future arts and science undergraduates, the university's board of regents last week approved plans for a new fine and performing arts centre of 50,000-square-feet at a cost of $30-million.
To build it, the school will have to destroy an 84-year-old memorial to Mount Allison alumni killed in the First and Second World Wars and other conflicts. The demolition tender has already been awarded.
The decision has incensed a group of alumni, architects and heritage society activists, who hope to get an injunction to block construction.
The new centre is projected to open in the fall of 2014 – almost coincident with ceremonies to mark the centenary of the First World War.
"As trustees, we have to not only honour the past, but meet the needs of the future," said Gloria Jollymore, vice-president of university advancement. "We regret that not everyone agrees, but we are making this decision in the best interests of the university."
Others say the decision runs roughshod over the memory of dozens of Mount Allison students – and the declared wishes of the university trustees who raised funds to build the two-storey structure in 1927.
"This issue is bigger than just this building," warned Jean Cameron, a Mount Allison graduate who is organizing opposition. "This issue will fester, create a rift that cannot be healed. Many alumnae will simply stop giving money to the university."
"How many alumni and friends will take Mount A out of their will … [or]stop annual contributions," Ottawa consultant and Mount Allison alumnus Mark Hiltz asked. "The only one I can answer for is myself."
Another alumna, Patti McKinna, now general manager of Toronto's Telus Centre for Performing and Learning, said she too will give no more money to her alma mater.
"I'm delighted they want to build a performing arts centre," she said, "but not if it means sacrificing a building they decided no longer fits their needs. I don't think due diligence has been followed. Not enough alumni are even aware of what's being done."
Designed by architect Andrew Cobb, the structure was conceived expressly as a memorial library, honouring 73 Mount Allison students who died in the First World War. Initially, their names were prominently displayed in an entrance hall, although the memorial plaques (along with names of the dead from the Second World War, the Korean and Boer War) were later moved to another room.
In the 1960s, the old building became a student centre. But when a new student centre opened in 2008, the plaques were moved to its entranceway. David Stewart, the university's vice-president of administration, said the new location provides higher day-to-day visibility.
"It's a sad mistake," said Toronto architect Jack Diamond, who drafted a facilities master plan for Mount Allison in 2002. "They're destroying the very thing they should be trying to preserve. Our feasibility study showed that they could incorporate it within a new performing arts centre."
After a legal appeal from the university, the provincial government dropped its intention to designate the memorial library as a heritage structure, which would have protected it.
Moncton lawyer Peter Monkler has advised the board of regents that, according to university statutes, the memorial library is held in trust and that it does not have the legal right to demolish it. That contention is expected to form the basis of a bid for an interim injunction.