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Grey Nuns Reading Room restoration project receives national award

Concordia University recognized for its exemplary work to creatively repurpose the historic building
October 22, 2018

Four years ago the doors of the renovated Grey Nuns Building were opened to the Concordia community, welcoming everyone to the new multi-use space.

This month, the National Trust for Canada is recognizing the significant effort it took to get there, by presenting Concordia with an Ecclesiastical Insurance Cornerstone Award for its restoration of the building’s Reading Room.

The accolade highlights the university’s exemplary work that contributed to the successful regeneration of the historic site.

Stewards of history

“When we purchased the building in 2007, we took on a very important role as stewards of this historical space,” says Martine Lehoux, director of strategic planning for Concordia’s Facilities Management. She points out that it is now classified as a National Historic Site by the governments of Quebec and Canada.

“We have the obligation to pay attention and make sure that the building is preserved for future generations.”

This thought was top of mind when renovations began several years ago to convert the building into a residence for 601 students, a carefully repurposed Reading Room with study spaces, a Food Services kitchen and a nursery.

Concordia’s Facilities Management team worked hard not only to renovate and repurpose the space but also to do so in a way that respected the cultural heritage of the building.

Behind the renovations

“When we began our renovations we wanted to make sure that the interventions that we undertook were in line with what was pre-existing,“ Lehoux says.

The team aimed to intervene as little as possible, leave the maximum historical value and bring a contemporary approach to anything that was newly installed in the space.

For Lehoux, the Reading Room is a primary example of this strategy.

“We didn’t build any walls or touch any of the existing structure. We only removed the benches and replaced them with long tables for study space and other types of furniture.”

While the renovations were limited, Lehoux notes that the additions to the space were very contemporary.

“I think it turned out magnificent and we’ve received excellent comments from heritage groups and architects alike.”

This contemporary approach was taken throughout the building, from updating the bathrooms to modern standards to maintaining the historical charm of the dorm rooms, which feature incredibly high ceilings and beautiful large windows.

Lehoux points out that her team benefitted from the fact that the space was being reused in a similar fashion to what it was initially designed for.

“It was a convent originally and the rooms were spaces for the nuns. This made the transition to dorm rooms particularly easy and allowed us to keep a lot of the historical value.”

Moving forward

When asked what’s next for the Grey Nuns Building, Lehoux notes that the structure is huge and there is still a long list of planned upgrades.

Recently, the masonry on the bell tower and the two transepts outside the Reading Room were restored to their original beauty in a project that was completed this past summer. Concordia received an $851,000 investment from the federal government for this conservation effort.

Like all other projects undertaken in this space, the conservation work was done by preserving as much of the original structure as possible, taking the time to check for historical accuracy and using technologies that would marry or complement the building’s existing architecture.

“We used modern techniques in terms of anchoring and supporting, but we didn’t take anything apart for the sake of rebuilding,” says project manager Gem Silver from Facilities Management.

“We salvaged, reinforced and stabilized the existing structure to make it beautiful again.”

Find out more about
Facilities Management at Concordia.


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