With the pace of campus life returning to pre-pandemic levels, it might be easy to overlook some of the important renovations that have recently happened around Vic. From updated exterior lighting, windows and elevators, to renovated residence washrooms and the construction of new residence accessibility suites, work has continued across campus despite the numerous disruptions brought on by the pandemic. According to Vikas Mehta, executive director of the Department of Infrastructure and Sustainability (I&S) at Victoria University, this was always the plan supported by senior leadership and the Board of Regents.
“Our work has never stopped,” says Mehta. “We continued with our plans despite pandemic-related challenges. All of the I&S team worked at our campus every day throughout the pandemic to support University business operations.”
Mehta says one of the more noticeable additions to Vic is the new exterior lamps installed across campus. These lights provide improved visibility and safety at night. While upgrading something like exterior lighting may appear straightforward, Mehta stresses that it requires painstaking planning.
“Community stakeholders selected the lamps that matched the historic esthetic of our campus, and we had a consultant do a light-intensity study on the campus at night to see where we had dark spots. We also reached out to security to see if they were aware of any areas with poor visibility,” says Mehta. “We not only replaced the exterior lamps to make the campus safer but also more energy efficient. We take every opportunity to improve the safety and energy efficiency with all our projects and renovations”
In addition to making a safer, greener space, Mehta’s team also focused on making the campus more accessible.
“The E.J. Pratt library elevator needed major work,” he says. “Along with significant repairs, we wanted to enhance accessibility features.”
The newly renovated elevator features audio commands for the visually impaired, including an audible floor-passing and floor-stopping tone for floor annunciation, raised and braille floor designation signs and new floor-selector buttons that are easily identifiable by touch.
Mehta says accessibility and sustainability remain a priority, as does the need to ensure that renovations maintain the historical integrity of Vic’s campus. The recently upgraded windows at Annesley Hall and Burwash lower house are examples of the complex planning and approval processes that are required when working on heritage sites.
”We get approvals from the Toronto Heritage Society before we do any work that may change the exterior of our heritage sites,” he says. “Approval for something as seemingly straightforward as upgrading windows can take anywhere from three to eight months.”
Mehta says that the need to maintain historical integrity goes beyond permits. He stresses his team’s priority is also to fulfill Vic’s strategic framework of creating a true place of being on campus.
“People remember their experiences on campus,” he says. “They remember sitting on Vic’s red steps and taking their pictures in front of Emmanuel College or Birge Carnegie. Those are iconic sites on campus and we want to make sure that the architectural integrity is maintained.”
“This is really a team effort, with a shared goal to celebrate our sense of place,” Mehta continues. “Without the support of all our frontline teams, including I&S front-office staff, housekeeping, maintenance, grounds and the mailroom operations, none of this would have been possible.”
Even though their work is often rooted in history, Mehta says he and his team are also looking for ways to use new and innovative technology. One upcoming project has Mehta particularly excited. Although still in its preliminary stages, research is now underway to determine whether the Margaret Addison field can be used as a geothermal renewable energy source.
“What we want to do is use the geothermal, or ground source renewable energy to heat and cool our buildings. This is something that Vic’s Sustainability Committee and senior leadership is very supportive of.”
While Mehta stresses this is a three- to five-year plan, he feels positive about the project’s direction.
“We will be testing the soil and taking readings to confirm suitability and capacity. It is quite a bit of work ahead of us, but it would be a huge win for our sustainability efforts if it’s successful.”