Limerick City & County Council recently issued a notification of a decision to grant Planning Permission to Mary Immaculate College (MIC) for their Library & Learning Resource Centre, designed to accommodate the College’s increasing student numbers, which are set to reach 5,000 by 2020. Costed at close to €21 million, the 5,000m2 building will be situated in the heart of the campus replacing the existing outdated library.
According to Professor Eugene Wall, Acting President, MIC, the facility will deliver a long overdue replacement for the current Library, with the student population having increased five-fold since the existing Library opened its doors in 1976 to 750 students. The intervening years have also brought huge changes in the ways in which students learn, and the in the range of media available to support that learning. These factors, coupled with very significant advances in building standards and regulations, means the current library is no longer fit-for-purpose.
Welcoming the City & Council’s decision, and describing it as truly transformative in terms of the impact that the new facility will have on the quality of the learning environment for future generations of students, Professor Wall confirmed that the College will now redouble its efforts to secure confirmation of Higher Education Authority funding, enabling the project to proceed.
The new building will deliver a future-proofed Library / Learning Resource Centre, centrally located within the MIC campus, and addressing the recently constructed Tara building as well as the protected Foundation Building and Residence Block. The positioning of the building, relative to Tara and the existing Quadrangle, will allow the demolition of the old Library building to enable the formation of a new Quadrangle and outdoor civic space. The provision of appropriate landscaping and the gentle terracing of the approach to the new Library will enliven this space, while the south-facing orientation of the building and shelter in the form of the overhanging upper floors of the Library building will make this an attractive outdoor space for meeting, learning and relaxing all year round.
Internally the building will feature a range of learning settings from silent study areas to lively group work rooms. It will have over 550 study places, and will accommodate over 170,000 volumes. The Library / Learning Resource Centre will also contain a 288 seat lecture theatre, media editing suites, a media studio, seminar rooms, staff offices and all the ancillary spaces necessary for a higher education library.
As a result of the recent incorporation of St. Patrick’s College Thurles MIC is now a multi-campus institution offering 9 undergraduate degree programmes in Education and the Liberal Arts as well as a wide range of Continuing Professional Development offerings for teachers and numerous postgraduate opportunities to Masters and PhD level.
The second Mary Immaculate College Foundation Gala Dinner, which took place on Saturday (7th March, 2015) in the Strand Hotel, Limerick saw over 200 of MIC’s business and civic partners gather in support and celebration of developments at the College.
Speaking at the event Professor Michael A Hayes, President of MIC said; “The MIC Foundation, set up in 2005 as a separate charitable entity, is key to identifying and accessing funding from sources outside of the Exchequer – where the majority of our funding comes from currently. In these times, it is vital for all higher education institutions in Ireland to develop their potential by means of non-Exchequer finance. Few Universities in Ireland can say that they have sufficient funding to operate at their true level of potential and the same, naturally, can be said of our own College, for which we have very ambitious plans.”
These plans include two major capital development projects that will support the broad quality of the student experience at MIC but will focus also on the particular material and technological.
The former Mount complex, on the South Circular Road, has been purchased by the College and will be refurbished to house the increased numbers of postgraduate and research students. It will also serve to open up the College to O’Connell Avenue giving a physical foot-print that extends from the Dock Road to the main city thoroughfare. It will be re-named as the John Henry Newman Campus in honour of the Nineteenth Century priest, Cardinal and now Blessed, and author of the seminal work ‘The Idea of the University’ and who preached a mission in St Michael’s Church in Limerick for the establishment of the Mount as an orphanage.
A more ambitious plan is afoot to build a new, technologically advanced and future-proofed Library Building at the heart of the campus. This is a central aim of the College’s Strategic Plan and will achieve an important milestone in this coming year by finalising a design and submitting the project to the planning process.
These capital projects will provide for the increased student numbers at MIC, which is expected to rise by 16% in the coming year bringing the student body to in excess of 3,500 in September 2015. This figure will be boosted by growing numbers of international students, including a cohort from Brazil, funded by that Government’s ‘Science without Borders’ programme.
In the research landscape, some important re-structuring has taken place at MIC with the creation of three broad, multi-disciplinary research institutes that will create ‘umbrellas’ for the varied range of research interests amongst MIC staff as well as the existing research centres. The Institute for Catholic Studies was launched last year and the Institute for Irish Studies was launched just last month by one of the College’s distinguished alumni, Prof. Brian O Conchubhair, of the University of Notre Dame. Later this spring, the new Institute for Education and Social Policy will be launched.
In his address Professor Hayes also referred to the College’s strategic aim of working more closely with their partners in a common vision of success for Limerick City and region. Professor Hayes pointed to the triumph of the 2014 City of Culture as an example of what is possible when city partners work together. MIC staff were heavily involved, carrying their varied expertise outside of the confines of academia to many of the cultural themes that were explored during the year around the city. According to Professor Hayes; “The wider community found our campus to be a welcoming and rewarding destination during the year and our Lime Tree Theatre, which has by now cemented itself as part of the essential social and cultural infrastructure, was a key element of the overall City of Culture strategy.”
A recent Arts Council report supports this saying “The Lime Tree has had the opportunity to showcase both a wide range of artists, artforms and genres along with its own abilities in providing a top-class service to audiences and artists. In both of these it has excelled and the Lime Tree has become, in a remarkably short space of time, a major venue in the national infrastructure.’ This January the Theatre celebrated reaching the significant milestone of 100,000 patrons and also winning the Best Sport, Art and Culture Award at the recent Regional Business Awards.
Capitalizing on the theatre experience and infrastructure that is on the campus MIC has developed a new degree-level programme– the BA in Contemporary Applied Theatre Studies. It is the first of its kind in the country and will offer a new niche in theatre Studies that carries significant employment prospects for graduates.
The success of the MIC strategy of collaboration with its main partners, the University of Limerick and Limerick Institute of Technology was also highlighted on the night. In the national context, the partnership, the Shannon Consortium, is now seen as a leading exemplar of what the Government calls ‘regional clustering’ of higher education institutions and this is a key objective of the national policy for higher education. Professor Hayes expressed his personal gratitude to fellow Presidents, Don Barry and Maria Hinfelaar and the Chair of the Shannon Consortium Steering Group, Tim O’Connor, all of whom were in attendance on the night.
Inclusivity at third- level featured in the President’s address with particular mention made of the MIC programme for adults with intellectual disability seen as a prime example. This programme does not receive public funding as national policy does not yet recognise that adults with intellectual disability are entitled to study at a higher education campus. The JP McManus Foundation has recently awarded the programme E200,000 which will ensure the programme will run for the next four years.
In thanking the guests – which included the Bishop of Limerick, Fr Brendan Leahy; Mayor of the Metropolitan District of Limerick, Cllr Michael Sheahan; and Deputy Mayor of Limerick City & County, Joe Crowley – Páidí Ó Lionáird, Chief Sub-Editor Nuacht RTÉ & TG4 presenter and current Chairman of the MIC Foundation Board commented that “The Gala Dinner was a great opportunity to say thank you to the many friends of Mary Immaculate College and to keep alumni connected to their alma mater.” Notable Alumni in attendance was Fr. Phonsie Cullinan, an alumnus of MIC and now Bishop elect of the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore.