A rendering of renovations at the USask Murray Library.
The renovations at the USask Murray Library are part of the University Library Master Plan, which includes initiatives to improve sustainability, enhance learning spaces and preserve distinctive collections.

Major changes in familiar places

Renovations are underway at the Saskatoon campus after the Province of Saskatchewan approved USask issuing a bond to carry out critical infrastructure renewal projects

With the return to more traditional fall and winter terms and increased on-campus activity, students, faculty and staff may notice some significant projects happening at key University of Saskatchewan (USask) buildings.

A construction crane will soon be spotted outside the Murray Library as work begins to remove an exterior wall panel. It’s part of what Charlene Sorensen, assistant dean, University Library, describes as one aspect of an exciting project that will take place over the next several months to enhance the learning spaces within the Murray Library. One part of the renovation will include upgrades related to hot water, power, lighting controls, and heating systems within the building, said Sorensen. “The replacement of the aging systems will help to reduce the energy consumption of the building and improve the heating throughout the space,” she said.

Another part of the renovation will focus on upgrades to the building’s exterior, including adding new energy-efficient windows in place of two concrete panels that extend from the third to sixth floors of the library – one on the north side of the building and another on the south. Sorensen said the addition of these new “waterfall” windows will help open and brighten up the space by allowing more natural light into the building. The final, and most substantial, part will include a complete overhaul of the fifth floor of the Murray Library, which will be the future home of University Archives and Special Collections (UASC), currently located on the third floor.

UASC is home to an extensive collection including archival documents, rare books, photographs, films, artifacts, and more. “This collection plays an essential role in preserving the history and sharing the story of our university,” said Sorensen. “The new home of UASC on the fifth floor will have climate-controlled space for these valuable collections, a dedicated presentation room, spacious reading room, and a flexible employee work area.”

In addition to being stewards of valuable university records, collection highlights in UASC include the Neil Richards Collection of Sexual and Gender Diversity, a handwritten poem by Louis Riel, the personal and political papers of Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, a Nobel Prize medal, medieval manuscripts, and rare books dating back to the 16th century.

Funding for the library’s renovations is supported through the issuance of the university’s $85-million bond which was approved by the Province of Saskatchewan. The bond proceeds will be put toward the renewal of several core campus buildings that are essential to the university’s academic mission, including Physics, Thorvaldson, W.P. Thompson (Biology), Murray Library and Arts. Across the Bowl, work is taking place at another prominent building as part of USask’s bond-funded renovations. Extensive demolition continues on the W.P. Thompson (Biology) Building site, said senior project manager Kelly Gatzke.

Work on the more than 60-year-old building has been ongoing for the past several months. After the project initially slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is now picking up speed and reaching critical milestones.

“In addition to the time-consuming asbestos removal throughout the building, completing the demolition work while carefully maintaining critical architectural aspects of the historic building has been a challenge, but we are now seeing great progress and excited to have the project progressing,” said Gatzke.

The project, which will include the demolition and a complete rebuild of the east wing of the building, will bring a new core area to campus designed for multidisciplinary studies and events.

“The design of the new main floor of the building is based around creating opportunity for meaningful interactions and providing flexible workspaces that promote interaction between researchers, instructors and students from all disciplines,” said Gatzke.

“The second floor of the east wing will be the new home of the biology office and labs for natural sciences. Both the main and second floor will provide the primary connection from the Collaborative Sciences Research Building and the Natural Sciences Museum when completed.”

The project is being undertaken with leading environmental building standards to reduce the energy consumption of USask buildings.

While construction on both renewal projects is expected to continue for the next few years, everything possible will be done to minimize the disruption to students, faculty and staff.

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