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Students of the University of Waterloo’s urban design department have completed their redesigns for the Cooper site.
Tasked with re-envisioning the property as part of a school project, the students consulted community members in order to utilize the space to its maximum capacity.
There were 11 projects in total. Each was presented to three judges, all of whom are members of the Grand Trunk Railway Site Heritage Committee, a branch of the Stratford Perth Heritage Foundation that is actively campaigning to retain the former railway shops.
The top four highest-scoring projects, along with two honourable mentions, were presented to the public at the University’s Stratford campus on Thursday, Dec. 10.
Professor John Lewis explained that the only stipulation the young designers had to abide by was not demolishing the former CNR shops as part of their plans. Other than that, they were free to design the property as they saw fit, provided it integrated well to the city core and conformed to all related bylaws.
Students were also held to rigorous guidelines when it came to what could be planted.
“We wanted to make sure they weren’t introducing any invasive species, and that the site would be environmentally friendly,” said Lewis.
The results were a somewhat varied series of blueprints that included such notable features as amphitheatres located on the former turntable, community gardens, train-themed playgrounds, bus depots, tennis courts, skateparks, swimming pools, gazebos, and, of course, lots of parking.
As to the GNR building itself, the students assigned the hulking empty building such uses as residential and commercial spaces- both retail and office, a new library, a relocated Accelerator Centre, a railway heritage museum, a parking structure, and the I.T. hub for the university itself.
One group thought to include an extension to Cooper Street into its plan, granting neighbours to the south easier access to downtown. Another had a year-round flowering schedule to ensure the area was in constant bloom.
One of the more attention-grabbing ideas of the evening was to project movies on one of the shops’ big white walls, utilizing a nearby parking lot for a makeshift drive-in theatre.
“The idea was to get them used to dealing with a client,” explained Lewis of the evening’s public perusal. “They’re working on a project that has real significance to Stratford. The feedback will be very honest. I didn’t want anyone to sugarcoat it.”
Lewis added that opening their projects up for public scrutiny will better prepare the students for when they’re tasked with challenging design projects in their future careers.