Fresh concerns have been raised over the timing and level of consultation with regard to College Park being named the preferred site to build a temporary two-storey pavilion at Trinity College in Dublin while the Old Library undergoes a major refurbishment.
Three of Trinity’s largest and oldest sporting clubs – athletics, football and cricket – had already raised their objection over the proposal, now expected to be pushed through by the Trinity College board on Wednesday, in what is their first meeting of 2022.
A feasibility study is also being presented outlining the scale of the project and allowing for the continuation of some sport at College Park; however, according to the clubs, this will effectively render College Park useless as a competition and match facility, while also depriving the wider college community the sort of green space it increasingly craves. The Old Library refurbishment is expected to take between three to five years, which means it could be 2028 before the space is restored.
Ahead of Wednesday's board meeting, Dr Iain Morrison, distance running coach with Trinity athletics club, invited Trinity provost Linda Doyle and the 27-strong college board to attend their training session at College Park on Tuesday evening, the first of the new term, after being briefed of the latest intentions only last Thursday.
“What everyone acknowledges is the importance of the refurbishment, and the temporary exhibition as a means of maintaining some revenue,” Morrison told The Irish Times.
“Our main concern expressed at Thursday’s briefing was about alternative plans, only to be told there were none. It appears College Park is the only site they want, without balancing that against all they’re taking away. Obviously we have a totally vested interest in that, don’t want to lose any of College Park, temporary or not. Because we all know what temporary can mean, or may end up being a much longer spell.
“They also presented revised drawings, which essentially squeezes in a 400m circuit, of only three lanes, but it goes right up against the boundary, and from what I can see just isn’t realistic. The football pitch is just about legal size, but again right up against the boundary. Same with the cricket pitch, it’s just not realistic.
“We also feel it’s quite unfair that much of this was done out of term, we were only briefed last Thursday, were only back training this Tuesday, the board meeting is Wednesday.
“From a sporting point of view, it’s detrimental, full stop. My feeling now is that this will be presented after ‘consultation’ with the sport clubs, and that they can live with it. I feel an alternative should at least be explored, because there doesn’t appear to be, it’s all about horseshoeing this into College Park. Do they value this space, or not?”
Following the initial proposal, November’s board meeting heard several dissenting voices, the Old Library refurbishment set to begin in early 2023, and now expected to cost €120 million. Students have four representatives on the 27-strong college board, three from the students’ union, and one from the graduate students’ union, their president Gisèle Scanlon; all four have already objected.
Last year, Dublin City Council granted planning permission for the refurbishment, and in May 2021, the Government committed a €25 million grant, the temporary library exhibition intended to cover the major loss of income from the Old Library, renowned for the Book of Kells and the Long Room.
Scanlon said the board’s insistence to push the proposal to use College Park is “ill-judged” and “does not take into consideration the displacement of student sports facilities and the resulting impact on mental health”, adding that College Park’s “historic integrity is under imminent threat”.
For Morrison the timing is also of concern: “We sent an invite to the provost’s office, and the board members, to come along to our training on Tuesday evening, give them some sense of what would actually be diminished, taken away. It is short notice, but we’ve been on short notice too.
“We don’t want this to happen, want them to look at alternatives. They’ve said they’d come back to us, after the board meeting, and it still has to go to planning, which allows for objection. We just feel something like this can’t be good for the sustainability of College Park long term.”