Since the construction barriers surrounding the William Doo Auditorium in 45 Willcocks Street went up in January 2019, curiosity over what is happening behind them has been the source of many a conversation for New College faculty, staff and students. When you want to know what’s happening behind the walls of a construction zone, often times the easiest solution is to put on a hardhat and find out for yourself. And that’s exactly what New College’s Chief Administrative Officer Ron Vander Kraats does on a regular basis. Vander Kraats has been involved in every step of the project, and his excitement and vision have been a major driving force behind the renovation.
“Once completed, the William Doo Auditorium will support New College students as never before, with new spaces and resources which have been developed based on student suggestions and feedback,” says Vander Kraats. “Mr Doo’s generosity is helping New College make 45 Willcocks a showcase of how modern student space should function.”
Since William Doo’s extraordinary 2 million dollar gift to New College was announced in 2017, students, faculty, and staff have been wondering what to expect when the walls come down in early 2020. A transformative $1 million of Doo’s gift was earmarked for the restoration and revitalization of the William Doo Auditorium in 45 Willcocks. This generous gift is allowing for the re-invention and re-imagination of an important multi-purpose space. The auditorium is a hub of activity for New College, used for everything from lectures to conferences to alumni events to student movie nights. Years of use had proven the importance of having this space, but also resulted in an auditorium badly in need of an upgrade. According to Vander Kraats, when the construction dust clears, the NEW community will be able to enjoy a new era of 45 Willcocks and the William Doo Auditorium as a space meant to engage and excite students, both residents and commuters.
When walking through an active construction zone, it can sometimes be difficult to see the space as it will be and not as it is. In the case of 45 Willcocks, striking artist renderings created by the project architects Lebel & Bouliane, present vibrant depictions of the completed spaces. The transformation of a heavily used auditorium and an underutilized atrium into a fluid, flexible space will showcase the importance that New College places on creating modern spaces which enhance student experience in as many ways as possible.
One of the highlights of this renovation is the creation of ‘hangout steps’, which will serve as both seating for the William Doo Auditorium and an inviting place for students to gather. When the space is not in use for large events, the dividing wall of the auditorium can be closed, the new entrance to the auditorium opened and the steps will in effect become part of the atrium student lounge. By using steps instead of traditional seats, the atmosphere of this area will become more informal and inviting. In every ‘step’ of this renovation, there has been incredible attention to detail. Power outlets are placed at regular intervals along the risers of the steps to meet with the ever-growing need for charging stations; track doors allow flexible space configuration to meet the needs of varying sizes of groups; and two separate AV systems allow for simultaneous multi-space use. As is the case in all current projects underway at New College, accessibility issues are at the forefront. Primary access to the auditorium will now be from the main floor of the building (no more need to descend a staircase to a hallway which was officially deemed ‘spooky’ by students); a lift will make all levels of the auditorium accessible to those with mobility issues; and both AV systems will have audio assist capabilities. As well, both the auditorium and the multi-purpose room have been designed to properly accommodate smudging ceremonies.
The vision for 45 Willcocks is to provide a fulfilling experience for both resident and commuter students and to ensure that all New College students have the resources necessary for student success. Once completed, the renovated spaces will include the upgraded auditorium, a new Second Cup, revamped New College Student Union Offices, a dance/yoga studio complete with sound system, a new multi-purpose room and on-site facilities for commuter students including microwaves and eating areas. There will also be an additional music practice room and vastly improved sound-proofing. As extensive as this project may sound, according to Vander Kraats, it is only part one of a two-phase plan. As soon as this stage is complete, the College will quickly be turning its attention to phase two, details of which will be released in Spring 2020. Planning for phase two is well underway and, just last week, the College received approval from the University’s Capital and Space Planning Committee to proceed.
This article first appeared in the October 2019 issue of New(s) Update. Click here to see the full newsletter.