"Preparing mold for concrete panel for New Medical Sciences Building." (196-). After last Monday's flood, many of U of T's 1960s-era buildings were in worse shape than the historic buildings. "Preparing mold for concrete panel for New Medical Sciences Building." (196-). After last Monday's flood, many of U of T's 1960s-era buildings were in worse shape than the historic buildings. Sara Gill/University of Toronto Libraries Archives
Social media was abuzz last week as Torontonians somewhat gleefully reported on the happenings of their city: vehicles floating in the underpass of Dufferin and Queen, sewers overflowing their contents on Queen Street West, and water fountains on the fritz at Sidney Smith Hall.

Suppressed excitement at this fantastically soggy turn of events aside, last week’s flooding encouraged University of Toronto faculty and administrators to think about the long-term forecast for U of T’s historic buildings. (Some students took to Twitter using the highly-trending tag #TOflood, but the tag was not quite as popular as the recent favourite #robfordcrack.)

When talking about historic buildings on St. George campus, the term “deferred maintenance” invariably comes up. This term refers to a very long laundry list of maintenance required for U of T buildings. The list is so long that issues not directly related to health and safety can be pushed into near obscurity. One deferred area is the rather palpable lack of anything resembling coolness in many of the historical buildings.

Dr. Kim Pressnail, a professor of civil engineering at U of T, and expert in the preservation of historical masonry buildings, reminded the newspaper that the historic buildings on campus were not built for Toronto summers that are ubiquitously hot, wet, and smoggy.

“These buildings were built with natural cooling systems in mind,” explained Dr. Pressnail. “You open the windows and allow air to flow through. However, today it is 33 degrees and I don’t think there is any wind. So there goes that.”

And if U of T alumni would just pony up all the necessary funds to revamp the historic buildings?

The central issue that must be addressed with regards to the historic buildings is insulation. “Our buildings are leaky,” said Dr. Pressnail, “so we don’t have control of heating or cooling.” Re-doing insulation is a challenge, as neither a symbolic facade nor the finishing interior touches on a historic building can be significantly altered.

However, Scott Mabury, vice-president university operations, was on-call during the flood and noted that out of 29 buildings affected, only one of those buildings was considered historic. The majority of the buildings affected were those built in the 1960s: Sid Smith, Mechanical Engineering, New College, Edward Johnson, Warren Stevens, Anthropology, and OISE.

Talking with Professor Mabury, the discussion quickly swung from the flooding to the the longevity of U of T’s buildings, to the bigger picture: creating sustainable buildings. “[U of T] expects to be here indefinitely,” Professor Mabury explained. “We don’t have a timeline of five, or ten, or twenty, or twenty-five years for our buildings.”

This long-term forecast means that new and existing infrastructure must be made to use as little low-energy as possible. A new initiative at U of T called the Green Revolving Fund works to achieve this goal by offering the faculties a pool of about $3-million of central money to fund utility reduction projects.

Partway through the discussion, Professor Mabury unearthed a line graph from a pile of papers which highlights the energy usage in the Medical Science Building before and after the implementation of an utilities reduction project. The department spent approximately $1.6-million changing constant volume fans to variable volume fans, which work based on the number of occupants in the building. The initiative will reduce the energy consumption of the building by 450,000 kilawatt hours and consequently lower the Medicine Department’s energy bill by $700,000 per year.

While variable fans will provide little comfort during Toronto’s next onslaught of extreme weather, U of T is taking precautions to contend with increasing rain levels. All new infrastructure projects undertaken by the university must include stormwater systems that are capable of controlling flows from a “100 year storm—such as we had recently” explained Gail Milgrom, the acting assistant vice-president of campus and facilities planning.

the newspaper set out to learn about the longevity of U of T’s buildings in the context of more extreme weather patterns in the city, expecting to hear a somewhat grim line about the structural conditions of the buildings. There was a general consensus that U of T needs certain historic buildings to be renovated and some 1960s-era spaces rejuvenated, but mostly, U of T sees itself as moving towards and meeting its goal of dynamic innovation of spaces—a goal that is required to fuel a third century of learning.

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  • Subtitle: Campus infrastructure must be adapted to Toronto's changing microclimate
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