Commentary, Opinion

McLennan-Redpath closure: Construction or destruction?

Most McGill students spend a large portion of their time in the McLennan-Redpath Complex, taking out books for classes or using it as a study space. Home to the largest library on campus, this space will soon be closing its doors for renovations under the Fiat Lux project. Construction is expected to begin in early 2024 and will transform the library complex to include more event spaces, informal learning spaces, a Grand Reading Room, and increased seating for studying. 

This comes as a shock for students, with many still ill-informed about the changes that are to come and the space they are set to lose. While McGill’s plans for renovation display good intentions for the future of campus libraries, the university has failed to adequately inform students about the alternatives that will be made available to them during this construction period.

Last year, The McGill Tribune ranked the McLennan-Redpath complex as the best library at McGill. It serves not only as a study spot, but also as a meeting point for students. The library as a resting space is especially important for commuter students who rely on campus spaces throughout the day when they can’t return home between classes. Additionally, the conference rooms in the library serve as a meeting place for various students clubs, groups, and organizations. Student democracy is only upheld when clubs with varied levels of funding and a diversity of voices have free and equal access to gathering space. 

Many students who arrived at McGill after 2019 might be unaware that McGill does have another large library: Macdonald-Stewart, home to the Schulich Library. The building has been undergoing renovations since late 2019, and it is expected to reopen in mid-2023. But with most construction having been halted at various points of the pandemic, students are left wondering whether Macdonald-Stewart will be open in time to fill the coming void left by the impending closure of the McLennan-Redpath Complex. 

Although students have been asking for more modernized study spaces for years, the steep decrease in study space that will come with the closure of the complex is of greater concern. Some students have taken to online platforms to complain about not being able to find space to work in the library, leaving them with few options for quiet study spots on campus, especially during exam periods. It is unclear where McGill wants these students to go while the complex is closed, and this should be on their list of pressing priorities—not just advertising their flashy new library project. 

In order to make up for lost study space, the administration is currently investigating the feasibility of installing temporary satellite spaces throughout campus. Student voices must be prioritized in these dealings, as they are the primary users of these spaces. If McGill intends to shut the complex down in early 2024, the construction of temporary satellite spaces must begin as soon as possible to give students time to adjust and provide necessary feedback. 

McGill has been previously criticized by students for various fundraising and development projects disguised as student-forward when in reality, the projects do not meet student needs or desires. The Made by McGill project, for example, is more concerned with enhancing McGill’s image and attracting investment than it is with providing resources and appropriate support for its current student body. McGill has also been condemned for administrative cuts to programs, such as its eating disorder program, as well as overcharging at campus eateries. Ultimately, their handling of the Fiat Lux project reflects a desire to uphold a public image of a well-respected institution, while simultaneously failing to meet the actual needs of students. 

The Fiat Lux project has the potential to benefit students and faculty members immensely, however, McGill must prioritize student needs when it comes to questions and concerns that they have about the closure. Where students will go and what spaces will replace the McLennan-Redpath complex is essential information that must be made clearly available. McGill cannot use Fiat Lux to enhance its reputation without ensuring the project is enhancing the student experience. 

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