Expansion in the works at STM
By Colleen MacPherson
Although it could be some time before construction begins, St. Thomas More College is planning what its president describes as a significant expansion aimed at providing space “for students just to hang out and be students”.
Rev. George Smith said the college’s enrolment has been climbing over the past five years and according to national statistics, “we’re well below where we should be for space that is just for student use”. The space Smith and the college’s Board of Governors envision would be open lounge areas or learning areas, “space where students can become engaged learners,” he said. “What St. Thomas More is about, in a few words, is learning in community.”
As to what form the expansion will take, Smith said there are some options. One is to make use of “the little bit of land that surrounds us” between College Drive and the edge of the public parking lot in front of Place Riel. Other options would see the work confined to the existing structure, with new space created by enclosing the building’s courtyard or building vertically.
The Board has met twice to discuss the expansion but the actual work could still be three to five years down the road. “We will need that time to build resources,” Smith said, but he declined to give a cost estimate for the project.
STM is in the midst of a $7-million capital campaign but expansion is not one of the priorities. “We have not received any gifts directed for capital improvement, but we don’t preclude such gifts in the future.” Even without directed gifts, Smith pointed out the Board has always been prudent about capital planning and was able to pay for “a couple of million dollars” in recent improvements to the plant from its operating budget. “The board will continue to be very careful every year to allocate funds to reserves,” he said, “but I expect we will still have to reach out to the community to demonstrate our dream for the future to enhance the undergraduate experience.”
STM was established in 1936, the realization of an effort by the Catholic community to have a college on the University campus, said Smith, “and that dream continues 70 years later”. In just the past five years, Smith said the college has been through a growth phase that saw enrolment increase 15-20 per cent. The reasons students choose STM range from the mundane to the conscious, he said, with the mundane being as simple as finding an STM course that fits into their class schedule. At the other end of the scale are students who consciously choose to study at a Catholic college.
The timeline toward expansion is a long one but the college has already alerted the University to its plans. Any expansion will require University approval, Smith said, so “we’ve said to the University here are some things we are dreaming about. We’ll be back to talk to you in a few years.” Informing the U of S this early in the process “is just our way of being a good neighbour. We want to be good citizens of campus.”