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Concordia University Magazine

Julie Gedeon
Fall 2009 |

Open for business

John Molson School of Business students and faculty members will reap the benefits of a spectacular new building in the heart of the Sir George Williams Campus

If the three tenets of real estate really are location, location, location, then Concordia’s John Molson School of Business (JMSB) has definitely upped its worth. The JMSB’s impressive, $118.5-million building on De Maisonneuve Boulevard and Guy Street opened its doors this summer to faculty and staff members and welcomed nearly 8,000 undergraduate and graduate students in September. JMSB Dean Sanjay Sharma points out that all the business school’s classes, research labs and offices are finally under one roof. “For the first time, the John Molson School of Business has a home,” Sharma says.

Even before the move, the JMSB was earning a worldwide reputation for excellence. The school ranked first in Canada in 2007, 2008 and 2009 in terms of graduates occupying the rank of Chief Executive Officer at Fortune 500 companies, according to survey results by the École des Mines de Paris. The school’s MBA program sits first in Quebec and third nationally among 35 Canadian MBA programs that integrate sustainability into the school experience, as indicated by the sixth annual Knights School Survey results that were published in June in Corporate Knights Magazine.

Sharma adds that the business school’s top-flight facilities are now on par with its high-calibre academic standing. “There is already much for us to be proud of. We’re top notch in so many areas, such as faculty research and student successes,” Sharma says. “It would be difficult to find a school that has had a similar string of successes in international case competitions.”

The JMSB’s brand equity will be bolstered by its new home, says Harold Simpkins, senior lecturer in Marketing and academic director of the Marketing Co-op Program. “We interview every student for the Co-op Program and 80 percent have said they’re looking forward to being in the new building,” Simpkins says. Marketing professor Gad Saad echoes this sentiment. “Given the growing prestige and stature of the JMSB, it’s nice to have a building that is commensurate with our path of ascendancy,” Saad says.

Home at last

Despite its long history at the university, the JMSB has never had a building of its own. Concordia’s business school has its roots in the founding institutions of Loyola College and Sir George Williams University. After the institutions merged in 1974 to form Concordia, students in the JMSB (originally known as the Faculty of Commerce and Administration) trekked to classes across both campuses.

What’s more, Dean Sharma says classrooms in the Hall Building and scattered among other locations often didn’t meet technological requirements or were too small. “You not only had 40 students crammed into 30- or 35-seat rooms but in many of the rooms, there were pillars blocking the view of the board,” Sharma explains. The new building was designed and built to meet the needs of students, faculty and staff members who will have easy access to its 45 modern classrooms, most of which seat 60 people (see sidebar, “Go with the student flow”). The facility also boasts seven amphitheatres (there used to be one amphitheatre for the Executive MBA and another for the Aviation MBA in the Guy Metro Building) and about 50 smaller, group-study rooms for students. All the classrooms are equipped with sliding blackboards, high-definition projectors and screens, audio-visual equipment and sound insulation. Many of the rooms are fitted with horseshoe-shaped seating aimed at facilitating students’ in-class case work and presentations, which, Sharma says, are integral to the School’s curriculum.

Harold Simpkins says the new classrooms’ technology and design will also make it more conducive to teaching. “For my advertising and marketing communications courses, the access to high-definition projectors and screens will be a big step up,” Simpkins says. Third-year Management student Chris Calkins says he attended many courses in uncomfortable or technically inferior settings. “These new classrooms will be a great improvement. I’m really excited to study here,” Calkins says.

Sharma adds that university administrators and planners poured a lot of time and effort into studying designs, lobbying governments and fundraising to bring the JMSB building to fruition. They visited about a dozen business schools in Canada and the United States, including the one at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., to determine what a 21st-century business school ought to look and feel like.

Peter Bolla, associate vice-president of Concordia’s Facilities Management, says the end result raises the architectural bar at the university. “It is probably the best place for students and faculty members in terms of space—especially public space—of all our buildings,” Bolla says. “The lobbies and student and staff lounges take advantage of the public space available, using the outside walls and windows to their fullest. There are great views of the streets and lots of natural light.”

Students can look forward to other improvements, including better access to the Commerce and Administration Students’ Association (CASA), says president Lea Zimmerman. “The opening of the new building has done wonders for CASA as we enter into our 25th year. Our offices used to be hidden away in the GM Building.

When someone came in to buy a ticket for an event, it was a shock,” Zimmerman admits. “Now, we’re in a centralized location on the fourth floor. We’ll be able to easily promote our events and services, such as our students’ computer lab. I’m certain that we’ll see a new and improved John Molson School of Business,” says Zimmerman, an International Business and Marketing student.

Go with the student flow

Traffic flow was a major consideration in the JMSB building’s conception. Architecture firms Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg and Fichten Soiferman and Associates designed the building with six floors of classrooms in the lower levels, thus allowing hosts of students and others to move about both quickly and efficiently. Undergraduate classrooms are situated between the second basement level and the fourth floor, with the fifth floor reserved for graduate students—all close to street level for easy accessibility.

Distinctive design features include a two-storey, stacked atrium, a vertically interconnected ground floor concourse and a tunnel under Guy Street that connects to the métro and EV and GM buildings (and will eventually lead to the J.W. McConnell and Henry F. Hall buildings). The atrium, which is two storeys high, is surrounded on all sides by enormous windows, flooding it with natural light. It will be used to host faculty and university events. Students will also have a surfeit of places to meet, including the 36 study rooms located close to classrooms. The offices for the departments of Theatre, Dance and Music are on the building’s fifth floor and Theatre and Dance classes are on the seventh floor.

From park to tower in no time

Looking at the 15-floor, glass-and-steel structure on De Maisonneuve Boulevard and Guy Street, it’s hard to imagine that this was an empty lot just two-and-a-half years ago.

In 1997, Concordia bought the lot and converted it into a small park whose trees were transplanted to the Loyola Campus grounds when construction of the new building began in 2006. Bolla says the building was conceived around 2001, at the same time as Concordia’s Engineering, Computer Science and Visual Arts Integrated Complex (EV Building), which opened in 2005 and is located across the street from the JMSB building at the corner of Ste. Catherine and Guy streets.

Concordia awarded the architectural contract for both buildings to Toronto-based firm Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg and Montreal-based Fichten Soiferman and Associates. “We purposely chose the same architects,” Bolla explains. “The idea was to create a presence for the university in downtown Montreal. The JMSB building acts like a sister building to the engineering one.” Gilles Desrochers is project manager for Genivar, the project management firm responsible for the building. Desrochers says building in a downtown space is challenging because it calls for frequent collaboration with neighbouring retailers and tremendous efforts to avoid causing traffic jams.

Desrochers says they were also tasked with designing a modern facility on the relatively small site. The EV Building occupies a lot of about 5,600 square metres while the JMSB lies on about 3,000 square metres of land.

But their biggest feat was to finalize construction in less than three years— and on budget. “We completed the project in 28 months, which is a good pace for this type of building. Our budget was $118.5 and we expect to be under that,” Desrochers reports. The larger EV Building took 35 months to build and rang up a total bill of $171.8 million. “Our experience working on the EV Building definitely helped,” he adds.

To pay for the building, Concordia secured funding from the Quebec government, which contributed $60 million, and corporate donations from companies such as BMO Bank of Montreal, Ernst & Young, PricewaterhouseCoopers, KPMG and RSM Richter Chamberland. Many of the classrooms bear the names of corporate benefactors, including the building’s largest teaching space, the BMO Amphitheatre, located on the first-floor concourse. The JMSB Alumni Chapter also pledged $500,000 and a room on the 11th floor will be named in honour of JMSB alumni. The chief private benefactor, however, is the Molson family, which contributed $20 million to the business school. The JMSB bears the name of the family patriarch, John Molson (see: “The Molson connection”).

Built to sustain

Creating an eco-friendly facility was also among the architect’s top priorities. Sharma’s own research focuses on corporate sustainability and he recommended the building be designed to meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification standards. LEED is an internationally recognized standard developed by the United States Green Building Council, an independent, non-profit organization. LEED certification requires builders to meet standards in five areas of human and environmental health: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor environmental quality.

The JMSB building also features the latest in solar technology to generate renewable energy. “It was a stroke of luck,” Sharma admits. “We have one of the leading experts in solar-panel technology, Andreas Athienitis, right across the street!” Athienitis, head of the Concordia-based, Solar Research Building Network and Concordia Research Chair, Tier 1, in Solar Energy for the Building, Civil and Environmental Engineering department, spearheaded the installation of the energy-saving solar panels (see: “Let the sun shine in ”).

Sharma points out that one of the JMSB’s priorities is to teach students to be more environmentally conscious and aware of their surroundings. “We want to educate managers for the future in a global, sustainable world,” he says. “Therefore, it’s essential that we walk the talk; that our courses teach sustainability and that our facilities be sustainable.” For example, Sharma says they opted for blackboards instead of white boards because the former have a much longer lifespan and require chalk, a natural and environmentally safe material.

Bringing the Ivy League to the street

There’s more to the new JMSB building than glass and steel. A creative public artwork, entitled Lierre sur Pierre , graces its north face along De Maisonneuve Boulevard. Lierre sur Pierre , which measures 50 square metres, depicts a vine of reflective, anodized metal climbing up a limestone wall.

The Quebec government’s $60-million financing included a requirement (as it does for all new public buildings) to spend one percent of the contribution on public artwork. As part of the process, in 2007, the committee of the Quebec Ministry of Culture, Communications and the Status of Women selected a proposal by Montreal artist/photographer Genevičve Cadieux, who is an associate professor of Photography in the Faculty of Fine Arts.

Cadieux says she was thrilled to learn that her artwork was chosen and is so prominently displayed. “To have an opportunity to realize a public work is always really interesting. Public artwork belongs to everybody,” Cadieux says, adding that she was inspired by the ivy growing along limestone walls around Montreal and noted that vines also symbolize Ivy League schools. “Concordia is a democratic institution but also offers a very high quality education. The ivy is a stamp of excellence,” Cadieux says.

She says that now that Lierre sur Pierre is part and parcel of the building, it’s taken on a life of its own. “A work of art has its own aura. It has its own light and colour. It produces a shadow. It’s dynamic and functions within its landscape, within its urban context,” Cadieux explains. “And I’ve heard that people like it!”

The addition of the JMSB building has visibly altered Montreal’s skyline, Bolla says. “Along with the EV Building and the reconfigured Place Norman Bethune on the corner of De Maisonneuve Boulevard and Guy Street, the JMSB building has already helped transform Concordia’s downtown image,” he says.

—Reporting by Perry J. Greenbaum, BA (journ.) 96

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