University of Alberta looking to get rid of Humanities building

The University of Alberta intends to get rid of a 50-year-old building that has acted as a hub for arts education for decades.

No concrete plans or timelines yet to remove building from inventory

The University of Alberta is assessing the Humanities Centre, built in 1972, with a future goal of removing it from its inventory. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

The University of Alberta intends to get rid of a 50-year-old building that has acted as a hub for arts education for decades.

The Humanities Centre sits along Saskatchewan Drive near the northeastern corner of the university's main campus. The U of A is currently assessing the building for "space optimization" with a future goal to remove it from its inventory, according to a statement from a university spokesperson.

Removing the building from the inventory could entail leasing the property and reinvesting the funds, closing the building temporarily or demolishing the structure. 

"University of Alberta campuses are built and adapted to the evolving research, teaching and learning needs of our community," spokesperson Michael Brown said in an email. 

"Our asset management strategy ensures changes on our campuses align with that core research, teaching and learning mission, while considering options for renewal, decommissioning, or removal of buildings."

Brown said the centre has a "considerable amount" of current and projected deferred maintenance, so its removal would ultimately remove operational costs and deferred maintenance liability.

No concrete plans or timelines are in place, Brown said. 

It comes as the university undergoes major restructuring in response to cuts to its operation grant from the provincial government. 

Carolyn Sale, an English professor and elected arts representative on the general faculties council, said the potential loss of the Humanities building is symbolic of a devaluation of the humanities.

Concrete brutalist building
The voluntary and anonymous survey was distributed to students at 26 publicly funded post-secondary institutions from January 2023 until March. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

"If we lose this building, this is a loss of integral space, but also an integral sort of dimension of the university," Sale said.

Departmental home

The Humanities Centre was built in 1972. It houses the English and Film Studies department, an Indigenous student gathering space, arts faculty undergraduate student services and the office of the dean of the faculty of arts.

The university is planning to move those units to an alternate space within the next two to three years with a promise they will be more closely located with other staff.

"I simply don't understand how we can be shoehorned into another building," Sale said. "But for any department, having your home space with some kind of integrity is important to it."

The building also features small and medium-sized classrooms that are fundamental for teaching humanities, Sale said.

"The last thing you want is moving into large lecture halls with much larger class sizes. This will be a really negative impact for students to lose this kind of space."

Christian Fotang, VP external with the U of A Students' Union, said deferred maintenance and student safety have been an ongoing concern for some of the university's infrastructure.

Beyond safety, the union's primary concern is whether removed spaces are suitably replaced.

"For us, it's about making sure that student spaces aren't being severely hampered as a result of cuts," Fotang said.