Future of Penny Building looks bright

It's taken a few years, but the redevelopment of the downtown Dr. James Foster Penny Building is coming along. Parts of the building are already accessible and the main floor is set to open in January 2013. A recent $800,000-renovation to Level 1 and sections of Level 2 has enhanced the building immensely.

Upon completion, the Alumni Relations office within University Advancement will move into its new home, complete with five offices and a meeting room. As well, a new University gift shop will be created and the art gallery space updated, allowing Faculty of Fine Arts students a venue to showcase their work. The building's entrance will also be spruced up and the stairwell to the second floor is receiving a facelift.

Penny Building
An artist's conception of the lobby area inside the Penny Building.

The U of L Conservatory of Music is calling the second level of the Penny Building home until it moves into the new downtown Community Arts Centre in the spring of 2013.

Meanwhile, other areas of Level 2 continue to undergo construction, including a community meeting room, boardroom and upgrades to the washrooms and kitchen area.

The U of L Call Centre is also housed on the upper level of the building. It will continue to occupy the space part time throughout the year.

Renovations to the Penny Building have been ongoing since it was donated to the University of Lethbridge in 2007. Formerly a furniture store and a pool hall, the Penny Building has a long history in Lethbridge. Unfortunately, it wasn't in the greatest condition when the University took ownership, and with no set purpose for its use, construction to the building didn't get off to a roaring start.

The Project Management Office (PMO) first began work on the building to make it functional starting with the creation of gallery space for the Faculty of Fine Arts. However, there was a slight delay before the gallery could move in.

"We were doing the renovation for Fine Arts, but at the time, the Southern Alberta Art Gallery needed a home because their building was being renovated, says Project Manager Greg Lacey. "So we renovated the Penny Building for Fine Arts knowing that they wouldn't move in until after SAAG was done occupying the building."

In 2010, SAAG moved out and Fine Arts moved in, and soon after the PMO began an overhaul of the mechanical components throughout the building. Previously, each floor was broken into two zones, which offered little control of the heating and cooling systems among other mechanical operations.

"We did that for functionality of the space because we wanted to be able to mechanically zone the area to outfit anything we wanted to," says Lacey.

All renovations included the installation of energy efficient lighting and low voltage relays. A new hot water tank was also installed.

"We are using anything we can to make the building as energy efficient as possible," says Lacey.

Situated in downtown Lethbridge, the 2,862 gross sq. m. Penny Building not only presents more space for U of L programming, it is the perfect site for the University to host events and further immerse itself into the community – part of the University's strategic plan to build relationships off campus.

"Right from the get-go, the University identified the building as a good place to have galas and other events," says Lacey, adding many events have already been held on the site.

Future phases of the building project have yet to be outlined, but it may include renovations to the bar, art gallery area, and storage space as well as new signage.

This story first appeared in the December 2012 issue of the Legend. For a look at the entire issue in a flipbook format, follow this link.