The deteriorating condition of the President’s Cottage has incited those who regularly use the building to voice their concerns regarding its structural integrity. Located in the center of campus, the cottage first served as the university president’s home in 1857, making it the oldest standing building on campus – it was nominated to the Sackville Register of Historic Places in 2005. The cottage hosts a variety of social and academic functions, and currently houses the Atlantic Canada Conservation Data Centre (AC CDC) upstairs and the University Club on the main floor.
While the building has an abundance of structural issues, the most pressing is the state of the roof and the resulting mold and water damage. Rob McCormack, director of facilities management at Mount Allison, said the roof has been seriously damaged by ice damming and water infiltration. Facilities management is prepared to implement a temporary solution to the leaking roof, including the use of tarps and buckets, to ensure that the building continues to function throughout the winter.
“We are having emergency repairs done for the winter to give us time to study and figure out our next steps,” said McCormack. “The goal is to keep the water out for the next six months.”
Sean Blaney, executive director and senior scientist at the AC CDC, said the upstairs offices which AC CDC rents from the university are currently satisfactory, however the ceiling damage seems to be spreading and could begin to directly threaten the integrity of their offices. At present most of the damage has taken place towards rear of their offices.
“The back is in bad shape and when it rains heavily, especially in the winter when there is snow and ice on the roof, there are huge amounts of water coming in,” said Blaney. “We are just starting to think about investigating other options on campus.”
The University Club, a nonprofit group responsible for running the lunch service and many of the events held at the President’s Cottage, formed a subcommittee to advocate for substantial roof and structural repairs. One meeting has taken place between the subcommittee and Robert Inglis, Mt. A vice-president finance and administration.
Dr. Michael Fox, geography and environment professor and member of the subcommittee, said the University Club was concerned that they would be closed down due to mould or leakage. “We really hope that we’re not going to see another case of simply abandoning a building [and] letting it degrade to a point where it’s beyond repair,” said Fox.
Inglis has promised the club that facilities management will keep the cottage functioning for the duration of the winter. “We want to ensure that we can make it through the winter so that when we come to decision time […] we haven’t made any unintended decisions along the way,” he said.
While the university has promised temporary work to keep the building open throughout the winter, it has not yet set a budget for said work, nor has it presented a forthcoming plan to fund any significant renovations in the future.
“The uses that go on in that building need to be aligned and prioritized relative to the academic mission of the university […] which is teaching and research,” said Inglis. “Facilities follows function; function doesn’t follow facilities.”
Inglis said the AC CDC offices and meeting area for academic departments and other groups could easily be relocated to other unused spaces on campus. In regard to University Club functions, he said the university has to examine to what extent maintaining space for the club would support the university’s mission.
“We don’t have enough resources to maintain all the space we have, and we know we have empty spaces right now,” Inglis said. “At the end of the day, Mount Allison can do almost anything it wants to do, but it can’t do everything that everyone would want it to do.”
Andrew Irwin, department head of mathematics and computer science and chair of the University Club, feels the President’s Cottage has both an important historic significance as well as a significant multifunction role as a venue for social and academic events. “It would be hard to find the historic value in some other building [and] you couldn’t serve those functions easily elsewhere on campus.”
Irwin said the University Club is willing to fundraise and work alongside the administration to ensure that the building is maintained. “A lot of the work that is done off of the main mission of the university […] is done through fundraising,” he said. “We’re trying to keep it a functioning historic building.”
The university is undergoing a strategic planning process for the 2015-16 academic year; an aspect of this planning exercise is the development of a new campus master plan. The plan will focus primarily on the academic buildings on the east side of campus. Currently there is no plan to include the President’s Cottage into the campus master plan.