Atrium will become the heart of the college

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

When we sat down to discuss long range planning, the same topic came up over and over again – it was time for Grebel to expand,

John speaking at the atrium in Conrad Grebel University College
says Paul Penner, Operations Manager at Conrad Grebel University College.

On Sunday, November 9th, 2003, over 200 donors, students, alumni, and friends celebrated the completion of the four year long planning, fundraising, and construction process with a dedication service and tours of the new residence rooms, apartments, atrium, classrooms, and music studios.
When former president, John E. Toews came to Grebel in 1996, he said that he would not support a building project. However, with better fiscal health, increased space needs, an aging building, and more wide spread support and interest from donors, a capital project became more feasible. Toews commented that,

when I started here I could never have imagined that we would be in the position to embark on a building project. But thanks to the generous support of donors these past several years we were able to contemplate constructing these seriously needed spaces.

After the official groundbreaking in June 2002, construction crews focused first on remodeling the existing building. A largely unused lounge in the basement was converted into new classrooms, while a games room and study area took the place of some offices. This put all of Grebel’s classrooms on one level, and gave residents a common area located closer to the residence rooms.

In Fall 2002, the year of mud and dust began. The 32-bed apartment building was finished in August 2003, offering upper year students more freedom and a fantastic view of campus. The residence expansion was also completed in time for the double cohort, increasing the total number of students in the residence from 116 to 142. With the expansion of the residence building, the games room became twice as large, and an airy new laundry room was added.

Carolyn Sherk, former Board Chair, said

Twenty-five years ago, the Board of the day had intended that the administration building would be linked to the residence building. Unfortunately the project ran out of funds and until now, the linkage has been only a dream. John made that dream come true. The academic and residence programs of this college are now physically linked and we have more public space for the college community. Thanks to John’s tireless efforts and the generosity of our donors, the fund-raising campaign has been successful. The college will not be in debt to pay for the building of the atrium.

To express their gratitude to John for this achievement, and as an ongoing reminder of his tremendous contributions to Conrad Grebel University College, solidifying the College’s finances and generating support, the Board named the atrium, the "John E. Toews Atrium."

The completion of the the 4-storey glass John E. Toews Atrium has been highly anticipated, since it links the residence and academic buildings, creates a large space filled with couches for visiting. Above, catwalks provide access to the library and elevator, making Grebel more wheelchair accessible. The new coffee bar, Common Ground, has just opened and will serve specialty coffees, snacks, and baked goods straight from Grebel’s kitchen. On the lower floor of the atrium, two new music studios have been built, as well as a furnished gathering area for music students.

At the dedication ceremony, Dawn Regier, Board of Governors Vice Chair, mentioned that in addition to the architectural term, an atrium is a chamber in the heart. She hopes the new atrium will become the heart of the institution, and just as blood flows through the atrium of the heart, so will the life-blood of the College flow through the John E. Toews Atrium.

Another highlight of the dedication ceremony was a gorgeous copper sculpture, entitled “Ties that Bind” which depicts the Mennonite Story. Jo-anne Harder, a metal artist from Elora, Ontario, was commissioned to create the sculpture by patron D’arcy Luxton, who in turn, donated it to Grebel.

The anticipated total expenditure including financing for the building project was $5.1 million, however indications are that expenses will be below this mark. The majority of the project is being financed through mortgage payments with income generated from the apartments and new residence rooms. Because portions of the project, like the atrium, will not generate revenue, a challenge gift of $500,000 was given to start a "quiet fundraising campaign" for $1.4 million. At the dedication service, President Henry Paetkau announced that the campaign had reached $1,402,790 in donations.

President Paetkau commented,

We are truly enjoying these new spaces! They bring new energy and enthusiasm to the Grebel community. We look forward to the opportunities they offer to enhance both our residential and academic programs.