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'We don't have a place to gather': U of A classes displaced after fire in humanities building


The Humanities Centre at the University of Alberta will be closed for the Winter 2024 semester as a result of a fire, the school has confirmed.

The fire, which university officials say was caused by an electrical switch gear failure, broke out on Dec. 18 and resulted in contamination of the building.

"A transformer failed, heated up, and actually it was a very small fire, but it melted down a lot of the components in its vicinity, which produced a lot of smoke. And the smoke is actually what's causing most of the issues," James Allen of the U of A's facilities management team told CTV News Edmonton.

"The contaminants were widespread, with the melting of plastics and the like. And it actually travelled through a lot of the building, including some of our building systems, like the heating and cooling system."

Allen says the school immediately brought in a restoration company, but only got the results of the air quality tests back on Tuesday.

"It turned out that that restoration and cleanup effort was going to take literally months. So then that led us to the next stage of planning, and that was to find alternative classrooms and spaces for our students, faculty and staff."

Allen says the Humanities Centre has over 200 offices and workspaces and 237 classes were scheduled for the building for the Winter 2024 semester.

"We are hoping to get up on Bear Tracks, the new locations for these classrooms by Friday."

A plan is also being established for students and teachers to get any materials they may have left in the building.

A closure notice posted at the University of Alberta's Humanities Centre on Jan. 4, 2024. (Darcy Seaton/CTV News Edmonton)

Katherine Binhammer is a professor at the U of A's Faculty of Arts. She's been teaching in the Humanities Centre since 1995.

"Up until last night, there was optimism that we would be back in the building to teach our classes scheduled for next Monday," she told CTV News Edmonton.

"Last night, we got the news that the building would be closed, and not just closed for a week or two while they finished the cleaning, but closed for the entire winter term."

Binhammer says the building has fallen into disrepair over the years and there has been talk of the school decommissioning it.

"We've been teaching classes in which our students have had mice running over their feet, and gone to bathrooms that are clogged and broken for years now. So it didn't come as a huge surprise for us that the building has been deemed unfit."

"It is currently on a list of buildings that the university is hoping to close down."

Binhammer would like to see the school deal with the maintenance issues and reopen the building as soon as possible.

"I would love for the building's deferred maintenance to be attended to, and for all of us to get back in the building."

"Right now the humanities disciplines don't have a home, we don't have a place to gather. And that's a significant part of the learning environment for us."

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Amanda Anderson Top Stories

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