University of Toronto’s Varsity Centre finally receives go-ahead

The Governing Council of the University of Toronto (U of T) today approved plans for a recreation complex featuring a 5,000-seat stadium, track and playing field that will revitalize the former Varsity Stadium site at Bloor Street and Devonshire Place.

“Our academic plan identifies the student experience as our number-one priority,” says Professor Vivek Goel, U of T’s vice-president and provost. “The renewal of the Varsity site will be a huge benefit for students who will be able to use the new centre for academic programs, varsity and intramural sports and recreation.”

Following development of a master plan for the site, construction of the seating, field and track is expected to be completed by fall 2006. The regulation-size playing field will accommodate soccer, football and other sports. The surrounding eight-lane track will serve as both a training and competitive venue, meeting the standards of the International Association Athletics Federations as well as accommodating wheelchair racing. These amenities, to cost approximately $16 million, represent the first phase of a $56-million complex envisioned as a versatile centre of physical activity for all.

“These plans were developed with broad community consultation and reaffirm the important role of physical fitness and recreation in the health and well-being of our students and staff as well as the broader community,” says Professor Bruce Kidd, dean of the Faculty of Physical Education and Health. “The Varsity Centre will significantly enhance learning beyond the classroom and strengthen the continuum of opportunities in healthy physical activity.”

Subsequent phases that are proposed will include a bubble-like air-supported structure installed over the playing field in winter months, a three- or four-storey building at the south end of the site to accommodate indoor training, research, teaching and support spaces, and renovations to the Varsity Arena. The bubble will be able to accommodate three activities simultaneously, providing much-needed activity space for varsity and intramural teams and community use. Subject to funding availability and approvals, the entire Varsity Centre development could be completed by fall 2008.

Diamond + Schmitt Architects Inc. in association with Ellerbe Becket of the United States will provide consulting services for the project. Internationally renowned Toronto-based Diamond + Schmitt has completed several projects on U of T’s St. George campus, most recently the award-winning Bahen Centre for Information Technology and the Morrison Pavilion addition to the Gerstein Science and Information Centre. Ellerbe Becket has been ranked as one of the top 20 U.S. architecture and engineering firms (2004 Building Design & Construction survey) and second in the world in sports facility design according to a 2004 World Architecture survey.