City of Saskatoon grants warehouse to the University of Saskatchewan to house proposed architecture school

The City of Saskatoon has gifted a 100-year-old historic downtown warehouse to the University of Saskatchewan to serve as the home of the proposed school of architecture. The John Deere building, a four-storey warehouse on the edge of the north downtown, was approved Tuesday by a city committee as the future home of the U of S school of architecture, a proposed new program currently under consideration by the provincial government and in the midst of the university’s own approval process.

“Everybody always talks they want to invest in their community, but nobody wants to pay for it,” Mayor Don Atchison told the committee. “Saskatoon not only talks the talk but we act on it. This is going to help stimulate the area.”

U of S architect Colin Tennent said the donation is a significant step forward as the proposed design school gains steam. The John Deere building is ideal to be adapted for the school of architecture, Tennent said. The location is on the College Drive corridor and close to the university. It’s a historic building well-suited for renovation and its high ceilings are ideal for an architecture program.

“We like the appeal of renovating an existing building that has a degree of substance,” Tennent said. “The school could be a very potent catalyst for significant cultural and urban transformation in the area.”

If approved, the U of S is aiming to have an architecture school running by 2013, putting pressure on the City to finish the long-awaited 25th Street extension to Idylwyld Drive, which will open up the north downtown for redevelopment into a new area that could significantly increase downtown density.

The reservation of the John Deere building for the U of S was approved a city committee on Tuesday and still requires council approval. The committee also approved the master planning process for the redevelopment of the 84-acre north downtown, a triangle-shaped area that spans from First Avenue to Idylwyld Drive and 24th Street to 33rd Street.

The north downtown, which will include the new $91-million police headquarters, requires a $500,000 overarching plan to lay the groundwork for the area, perform environmental studies and hire a consultant to ensure development occurs cohesively, said Rick Howse, the city’s land branch manager.

“We’re trying to create an address,” Howse said. “This (master plan) will paint a picture to guide civic and private development.”

The John Deere Plow Co. Ltd., later Deere and Company Ltd., built the building in 1910 and occupied it until l961, when the property was sold to the City of Saskatoon. The four-storey, 16,000-square-foot building currently houses 50 offices on two floors and, in total, 150 city employees, many of whom are field staff who use it as a temporary home.

While the value of the John Deere building isn’t known, the 81-year-old Arthur Cook building — a 30,000-square-foot warehouse nearby — was appraised at $3 million and recently sold by the City to North Ridge Developments, which is adapting it for upscale office and commercial use, for $2.2 million. The John Deere building requires significant renovations with two storeys currently uninhabited.

The City is in the process of investigating relocating the city yards and public works staff from the John Deere building and south Caswell Hill’s transit headquarters and bus storage barns to a new location, where they would share a facility.

If the move doesn’t happen before the university is ready to occupy the building, then alternative arrangements will be made to house those employees, Howse told the committee.

By David Hutton of the Saskatoon Star Phoenix

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