Mount Allison’s Faculties Management has begun preparing the foundation for a structure which will commemorate the former Memorial Library and student centre. The construction of what the university has coined an “echo” commenced outside of the new Purdy Crawford Centre for the Arts (PCCA). The PCCA was built in place of the demolished library. Mt. A received substantial criticism from alumni and community members regarding its plans to demolish the 84-year-old building both prior to and after demolition.
The Memorial Library was constructed in 1927 to commemorate students who lost their lives in the First World War. It served as the university’s library until an addition to the building turned it into the student centre for 40 years before it closure. The student centre was moved to the new Wallace McCain building in 2008.
Mt. A’s Board of Regents approved the demolition of the Memorial Library in 2011. This decision sparked the creation of the Save the Memorial Library Committee, a group of concerned individuals, mostly alumni, who fought against the building’s demolition. Despite their efforts, demolition commenced Dec. 2011 following the N.B. provincial court’s dismissal of the committee’s demolition injunction motion.
Sackville resident and architect Robert Eaton, a member of the Save the Memorial Library Committee, said he was shocked when he heard that the library he had visited as a child was set to be demolished.
“I couldn’t believe that the university would want to demolish a building that was so important to their campus,” said Eaton. “It was the iconic Mount Allison building.”
Much of the concern surrounding the demolition focused on the heritage of the building as well as its architectural prowess and its existence as a memorial for fallen soldiers. Eaton was disturbed by the prospect of destroying a memorial designed by well known maritime architect Andrew Cobb.
“The shocking thing is that the building was built as a memorial to those Methodist boys who went over,” he said. “It wasn’t just a memorial, many said it’s a cenotaph because it was built to honour many who have no grave.”
Eaton and other committee members wanted to see the old building incorporated into the new arts building. Eatmon feels that the echo does not do the former building justice. “This is a kind of slap in the face to those who were really concerned about the Memorial Library,” said Eaton.
Carolle de Ste-Croix, alumni director, said the university received both positive and negative feedback surrounding the demolition of the Memorial Library. Prior to demolition, the alumni office sent out 20,000 letters to alumni members; out of the 48 responses that the office received, Ste-Croix said there were 19 positive and 14 negative responses.
“The Board of Regents made the best decision they could with the information they had,” said Ste-Croix. “What we always try to keep in mind is what’s best for the programs, what’s best for our students and what’s best for our faculty.”
Robert Inglis, Mt. A’s vice-president of finance and administration, said incorporating the old structure into the new PCCA building would have cost an extra $5 million. While Eaton argues the university had financial options, Inglis says constructing the new building around the former Memorial Library would have resulted in increased construction and operating costs.
Ste-Croix hopes that the echo will serve as an accessible outdoor space for students while commemorating the former building. “We went through a long process in deciding what we were going to do […] students needed to be able to climb on it, sit on it, read at it, meet at it,” said Ste-Croix. The new memorial structure will not use much of the salvaged stone from the old building due to its degraded condition.
The new structure has a budget of $110,000, including contingencies. Inglis said the funds for the echo came out of the PCCA’s construction budget. “[The] budget came from fundraising and a currently existing Facilities Management budget; [however], fundraising exceeded our goal and thus less funds came from Facilities Management,” said Inglis.
Third-year sociology student Sophie Roy decided to research the Memorial Library for a geography course after hearing about the construction of the echo. Roy said the memorial component of the former building seemed to diminish after its being repurposed as a student centre.
Roy said she is happy that they are commemorating the former building but is skeptical of the structure’s design. “I think it should be something that is treated with respect, and I don’t think it will end up that way,” she said.
Roy said an alumna she has talked to now refuses to donate to the university following the demolition. “I know she is not the only alumni who feels that way.”
This is a sensitive subject for Mt. A, as alumni have funded the construction of almost every building on campus.