Hard hat clamped on her head, feet tucked into safety boots, Barbara Schumacher leads a visitor around the University of Waterloo’s new Health Services building like a proud ship’s captain showing off a new command.

Dr. Barbara Schumacher, Director of Health Services at the University of Waterloo“It will be such a pleasant place to work,’’ says Dr. Schumacher, director of health services, as she navigates around stacks of panels and buckets of drywall compound. “The architects really listened to us. We knew what had to be different.’’

She doesn’t have to go far to make comparisons as work on the $10-million building winds down to a Feb. 11 opening. The old Health Services centre lies on other side of a wall.

Built in 1968, when the university’s population was about a fifth of its current size, the old centre is a network of cinderblock halls connecting cinderblock rooms. These have been reshaped by changing needs over the years. Windows are scarce. The autoclave for sterilizing medical instruments sits in a former washroom.

“We’re seeing 250 to 300 people a day,” Dr. Schumacher says. “It was built for three to four doctors. We’ve got seven or eight in that space today.”

Still, the old centre has one thing going for it: A prime location across the Ring Road from the Student Life Centre, with St. Jerome's University, Renison University College and Student Village 1 nearby.

Students backed the project in a referendum and construction began late November 2011. Designed by Kearns Mancini Architects Inc. with John MacDonald Architect Inc., The building features:

  • 21 exam rooms;
  • Second floor dedicated to mental-health care and health education;
  • Privacy. No need for hallway consultations with visitors;
  • Plenty of natural light;
  • Collaboration spaces where nurses and doctors can discuss cases away from visitor traffic.

Health Services building, University of WaterlooThe old building will be renovated into a wing that will house a family-health clinic. Growth in graduate and post-doctoral programs, plus Waterloo’s wide welcome to international students and visiting faculty, means that families form a significant part of the university community.

That, says Dr. Schumacher, demonstrates how much the place has changed.