The University of Regina College Avenue Campus has been an iconic presence in Wascana Park for decades. The stately building has played a major role in educating students since its humble beginnings as a high school back in 1911. Over the years, the campus has evolved as educational needs changed. But, it always remained a beautiful, welcoming place for the community. By the early 2000s, however, it became apparent that the College Avenue Campus was going to need major restorative work. The University of Regina appealed for funding for the much-needed renovations through a capital campaign, and in 2016, the school issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) to gauge interest in helping save the campus.
At the same time the university was working on a solution for the College Avenue project, Conexus Credit Union was dealing with their own building-related issues. Conexus, another well-known fixture in Regina, was seeking a new home for its head office. Staff were spread across the city in several sites, and it was time to bring everyone together into one functional space with room to grow in the future. “We explored 17 sites around Regina looking for the right spot,” says Eric Dillon, Conexus Credit Union CEO. “Then, the U of R issued the RFP looking for help and we took a look at their requirements. The requirements were rigorous, but they fit into our core values and our desire to serve our community. And, it would also provide us with the new home we were looking for.”
Conexus responded to the RFP, outlining the ways they would help the College Avenue Campus, including the most important part—saving Darke Hall. In June 2016, the University of Regina announced that Conexus Credit Union was the successful applicant, and the partnership was formed. Over the next two years, Conexus and the University worked together on plans to restore the campus and Darke Hall and provide the office space Conexus needed. “We worked with the university and Wascana Centre (now the Provincial Capital Commission (PCC)) to ensure the project met everyone’s needs—the University, Wascana Park, Conexus and the community at large,” says Dillon. “The community’s needs were always at the centre of the project.”
The project, however, was not without its detractors. Grassroots opponents to construction of the Conexus head office in the park took to social media, contacted local media and held protests. “We understand the love people have for Wascana Park, and their desire to preserve the park now and for the future,” says Dillon. “We worked closely with Wascana Centre and the PCC to ensure the project followed the park’s long-standing plans and took extra steps like moving existing trees and adding new trees.” Among the many extra steps, Conexus brought in a tree spade from out of province to move trees from around the construction site, and funded three trees to be planted in the park for every tree that had to be removed. The organization also addresses community concerns through continuous communication. “We worked to strike a balance between preserving the park, and preserving these historically significant buildings that were in dire need of renovation,” says Dillon. “Without this partnership, the community could lose an important part of its cultural heritage.”
Construction continues, and Conexus will move into its new home in 2020. The best part, however, is the community gets to enjoy the end result. Darke Hall will be back as a beautiful home for the arts, and this time, accessible for all community members to enjoy. “Darke Hall was never accessible, and now it will be,” says Dillon. “The ground floor of the new building will be open to the public, with a living wall, bike racks, café and a flex space for everyone to enjoy.” And, Conexus will get to do what it does best—serve the community is calls home. The organization has cooperative values at its core, and those values drive Conexus every day. “We saw the opportunity to help and we were fortunate enough to have the means to do it,” says Dillon. “For Conexus, giving back to the community is always the goal.”