University Centre set for meeting of minds

On March 12, UBC will open the doors on its long-awaited meeting and gathering place.

The campus community is invited to the opening of the Leon and Thea Koerner University Centre -- formerly the Faculty Club -- from 3 to 6 p.m. An official ceremony will be held at 4:45 p.m.

"The entire university community is welcome to drop by, meet friends and view the facilities," says Chuck Slonecker, acting Vice-President, External Affairs and chair of the University Gathering Place Advisory Committee.

The name, he says, reflects Leon and Thea Koerner's original role in funding the building in 1957.

"They thought members of the UBC community should have a centre which served as their professional home, where they might mingle, exchange ideas and increase the sense of teamwork that is so essential a part of university life," he says. "There is widespread agreement at UBC that the need for such a facility is as great today as it was then."

The advisory committee has spent five years pouring over questionnaires and proposals to revitalize the facility since it was closed because of bankruptcy in 1994.

A bistro restaurant and lounge will occupy the main floor, which is intended to serve as a meeting place. The office and conference space of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies is on the top floor and its residential space is in the separate wing adjacent to the Rose Garden.

"We're genuinely excited," says Judy Vaz, director of UBC Food Services. "There is a campus-wide commitment to make this work and we've had tremendous support from a wide range of groups at UBC, including employee groups."

She says a daily fresh sheet will be a feature of the menu which will be prepared in a brand new kitchen. The bistro will be open from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., including during the summer. The lounge will stay open on Friday afternoons.

The dining areas will seat 170, but Vaz expects about 120 during peak periods. She says some 1,200 employees are within a 10-minute walk of the centre.

"We've hired people with the expertise to provide a service we think will meet the needs and the expectations of faculty, staff, students, emeritii, alumni and visitors," she says.

Gary Edmunson, the centre's new manager, says a great deal of research has gone into the menu and the wine list.

"We have expert chefs in everything from classic French and Mediterranean to cutting-edge avant-garde cuisine. The wine list features phenomenal quality, representation and value."

Slonecker says the interdisciplinary and international activities of the Peter Wall Institute are key to the centre's success.

Revenue generated from 12 guest rooms and meeting room bookings will add financial stability to the centre. The institute's programs will also attract younger faculty to the facility, along with international visitors.

"We add an academic component to the university centre and our presence there will provide a higher profile for us and our activities," says Ken MacCrimmon, director of the Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies.

"Our mandate is to support basic interdisciplinary research by bringing together UBC researchers and international scholars and to bridge departmental and faculty boundaries," he says. "To accomplish this we're planning an exciting series of talks, meetings and workshops at the centre."

The facility, located on Crescent Road, was designed by former dean of architecture Frederick Lasserre and is acknowledged as a masterpiece of modernist architecture.

Slonecker thinks the reopening will be welcome news for retired professors who haven't had a place to meet for years as well as alumni and visitors.

The Leon and Thea Koerner University Centre is a partnership of the Peter Wall Institute, Food Services, Land and Building Services, Parking and Transportation, and UBC's professors emeritii.

The centre can be rented for everything from academic meetings to receptions and weddings. Call 822-1500 to book the facility or reserve in the bistro.

For information on booking space from the Peter Wall Institute for academic purposes, call 822-4782.