New Buhler Centre gets an F, students say

Complaints about noise levels, design from those with classes in the building

  • The Buhler Centre’s modern design is getting a failing grade from students who attend classes inside. – Garrett Elias

When the Buhler Centre opened in October, students in the University of Winnipeg’s Division of Continuing Education were excited to move into the brand new building. But instead of entering a finished and contemporary learning environment, many found the building unfit for housing their needs.

“There is a design flaw. Whoever designed the building didn’t consult properly on how to design a classroom,” said Kelvin Huska, a student in the U of W’s project management program. “It’s too noisy and the classrooms have obstructions.”

Huska even brought a decibel meter into his classroom to measure the noise levels.

“(Noise from the outside) is getting up to the point where it’s approaching 90 decibels,” he noted. “Prolonged exposure at 90 decibels damages your hearing ... around 80 decibels is the same as a ringing telephone.”

He cites the building’s concrete construction and unfinished ceilings as the source of the problem.

In addition to the noise interference, some students say there aren’t enough amenities and that the building was not finished enough when they moved in. Some have had to wait half an hour to use the one microwave shared between the four programs housed in the centre.

“Although we have had some problems with noise in the beginning, they have been solved with a retrofit double sound barrier,” said Erin Stewart, dean of the U of W’s Division of Continuing Education.

The sound barrier was installed during the winter break, but Huska has heard no difference.

An anonymous petition has been circulated and presented to faculty members complaining about the building.

Without lockers, students say they have nowhere to securely store their belongings. Huska also adds that there aren’t adequate numbers of outlets for people to plug in their laptops.

In light of the complaints, U of W officials point to the short construction period.

“It is important to point out that this building was constructed in just 11 months on a very tight time frame,” said Dan Hurley, associate vice-president of external affairs for the U of W.

“It was handed over to the joint partnership that includes the university and the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art on Aug. 23 and we had to move very quickly to get the building operational by Oct. 1 for the arrival of DCE.”

Hurley said that the noise problems are common with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings like the Buhler Centre, but that the architects did not anticipate how noisy it would be.

“In the case of the Richardson College for the Environment and Science Complex, we are working to ensure similar problems do not occur when the building opens this fall,” said Hurley.

Stewart remains confident that improvements will be made.

“The university is still moving in so to speak,” said Stewart. “We’re doing some things to brighten up the front entrance way, a restaurant is going in on the main floor, additional furniture and artwork (is) being installed which will make it an attractive place to be for students.”

Until then, students will have to deal with the noisy building.

“Eventually these problems may be corrected… it was definitely designed for appearance, not for function,” said Huska.

The architecture team that designed the Buhler Centre could not be reached for comment before press time.

Published in Volume 65, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 20, 2011)

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