Innis College students, alumni, leaders and friends gathered on the Innis Green recently to officially break ground on the college’s renewal and expansion project.
The revitalization will modernize and invigorate Innis spaces and include a new green roof, terrace and other sustainable features, reflecting Innis’s commitment to the environment. A hallmark of the expansion is a modern student learning centre, which will house the Innis College Library, a computer lab, academic support offices, dedicated areas for student activities and revitalized common spaces. The centre will also honour some of the college’s long-standing traditions, including the Innis Writing Centre, established in 1964 and the first writing lab of its kind in Canada.
“The colleges are the home of the student experience. This is where Arts & Science students make meaningful connections,” Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, told those gathered at the groundbreaking. “We need spaces where students can study with each other — and also where they can hang out, have fun and enjoy their college community.”
The groundbreaking was also an opportunity to pay tribute to the college’s storied past and its commitment to supporting student success. Speaking to the audience, Charlie Keil, Innis College principal, reflected on the significant changes and growth the college has experienced since its last groundbreaking in 1973.
“One thing has not changed, and that is the spirit of the college: the enduring importance of students to the college's existence and its future,” said Keil. “The reason we're here is because of the students of this college.”
Keil identified student leaders in the crowd and thanked them for voicing their support for the project early and offering their insights on how to enhance Innis spaces. Cheryl Regehr, vice-president and provost of the University of Toronto, congratulated the Innis community on designing transformative spaces that will serve future students.
“We want Innis College and the spaces we create to be places where students can make lifelong friends,” said Regehr. “That can only happen if you create spaces where people can work on projects together, where they can think about new ideas together.”
Innis students and alumni have been working toward this groundbreaking for years.
In 2017, when it became apparent the college was outgrowing its space on U of T campus, the tight-knit Innis community sprang into action. Students, alumni, senior leaders and friends collaborated on a plan for expanding and reinvigorating Innis facilities. Now, more than ever, the group is committed to seeing the project through.
“Our involvement is another way of expressing our gratitude and appreciation for all that Innis has meant to us,” says Joe Uyede (BSc 1969), Innis alum and co-chair of the project’s campaign cabinet. “This renewal and expansion project is essential for Innis to continue its tradition of inspirational student engagement in all aspects of college life,” adds campaign co-chair and fellow alum Joanne Uyede (BA 1969).
Generous donors, including Innis alum Linda Schuyler (BA 1974), also helped support and advance the project.
Schuyler, who produced the Degrassi franchise, which includes popular television shows Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High and Degrassi: The Next Generation, remembers Innis as one of the few places that offered courses on film, television and women’s studies in the 1970s. Through the years, she has maintained a special connection to the college.
“Innis always had this wonderful way of keeping the student at the centre of everything,” she says. “What I love about this project is the student involvement. It's a student centre but not in name only.”
Many students agree.
Ayaka Teshirogi (BSc 2023), who recently completed her term as Innis College Student Society president, has served as an ambassador for the Innis renewal and expansion initiative since her second year. She has enjoyed seeing student input shape the project.
“As the college continues to grow, I am pleased to see the space is evolving to fit the needs of the community,” she says. “I have had the privilege of seeing the many stages leading up to the groundbreaking and it is very exciting to finally reach this point. It has been a long journey, but it has definitely been worth the wait.”