For the past year-and-a-half, residents of Winnipeg have watched as Canadian Mennonite University (CMU) built a pedestrian bridge linking its north and south campuses over a busy thoroughfare. On Nov. 29, as CMU was preparing to open the doors for the public to view the new facility, the excitement was palpable.
Staff of Mennonite Church Canada and CMU eagerly and warmly welcomed visitors to the bright, spacious building that conveys a simple elegance and much careful thought in its design. Careful thought was also given to the name: Marpeck Commons.
“It was a vigorous and good process coming up with a name,” said Terry Schellenberg, CMU’s external vice-president. “This name rooted it in terms of identity and pulled it forward. Marpeck was an engineer whose work and writing are so pronounced in bringing diver-sity together. It reflects our diversity in bringing together Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite Church [Canada] and other voices.” Pilgrim Marpeck was also a reformer and lay leader of Anabaptist groups during the Reformation.
The new library comprises 930 square metres of the main level. Tens of thousands of volumes will be brought out of the old basement library on the south campus. Movable space-saving shelving has been installed. Study carrels, tables and comfortable chairs ring the outside perimeter, and take advantage of the natural light.
“We want the larger community, as well as the students, to see this space as theirs,” said Schellenberg, noting that more than 700 registered borrowers come from outside the student community.
“We want Canadian Mennonite readers to know that this is their space,” said Arlyn Friesen-Epp, director of the MC Canada Resource Centre, which is moving to the new facility and will be housed in a bright, spacious area on the main level. This 215-square-metre space, called the CommonWord, will be shared with the CMU Bookstore and a 37-square-metre portion will be retail space for Ten Thousand Villages. “CommonWord will be its own entity overseen by a management committee with representatives from CMU and MC Canada,” he said.
“The vision was to bring the Resource Centre here and the bookstore out of the basement into a public venue,” said Schellenberg. “We want to create a collaborative, integrated space that is engaging and inviting for the broader community. With the demise of so many Christian bookstores, CommonWord will offer arguably the best collection of Anabaptist Christian resources in the country and the largest Christian bookstore in the province.”
An abundance of natural light spills into the entire building. Comfortable chairs invite visitors and students to sit and relax in the large gathering space off the main entrance. They can purchase a cup of specialty coffee and pastry, even gelato, at the new Folio café. Across the open space is room for performances and other events. A portable stage, lights, sound system and video/live-streaming capabilities will give opportunity for hosting book launches, CMU’s Community in Conversation series Face2Face and other events.
On the mezzanine, which leads to the bridge, rooms are provided for student group study. Each of these three rooms is named in honour of a church leader: J.J. Thiessen, David Ewert and Archie Penner,
“We wanted to communicate to the students the church roots that this place rests in,” said Schellenberg.
A seminar room, classroom and offices for student support services are also found on the mezzanine.
“We had to work with Heritage Canada on the construction of this project,” explained Schellenberg. “The north campus building is a heritage building and therefore we cannot obstruct the view from the corner of Grant and Shaftesbury.”
Environmental sustainability has always been integral to the building project.
“We were disappointed when we learned that geothermal did not make sense for this project, but we were able to include many environmentally conscious and energy-saving initiatives in the construction,” Schellenberg said. “A large naturalized retention pond has been constructed on the grounds. Over 100 trees have been planted, with plans to plant more fruit trees.”
Marpeck Commons was built at a cost of $14.4 million. To date, $13.3 million has been raised.
“Not a penny of that has come from any level of government,” said Schellenberg. “We knew that much of the fundraising would rest primarily on a volunteer campaign cabinet and we knew the cabinet needed to be chaired by Elmer Hildebrand. He has been incredible, unrelenting and committed in his own unique and humble way.”
Marpeck Commons will be fully functioning on Jan. 6.
—Posted Dec 10, 2014
Librarian Vic Froese, left, Terry Schellenberg, Arlyn Friesen-Epp and Dave Bergen are pictured in the new library at Canadian Mennonite University’s Marpeck Commons.