Professors question sale of Universite de Montreal building
Published Monday, October 15, 2012 9:12PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 16, 2012 8:26AM EDT
Some professors at l'universite de Montreal are upset about the sale of one of the school's buildings to Frank Catania and associates -- a company into which the Charbonneau Commission on corruption is looking.
Once a convent, the BRAMS building at 1430 Mont Royal Ave. has been a U de M campus since 2004.
Desperately in need of repairs, the university said it spent about $35 million to buy and renovate the heritage building, however the building still requires $140 million in repairs, and is being sold for $28 million.
Officials argue the building wasn’t a financial loss because the school received grants and donations to fund the purchase.
It was important to buy it because U de M needed the space, said spokesperson Mathieu Filion.
“We consider that we are selling it for the price we paid for it,” he said. “We’re not losing a cent with this project.”
Others, however, question the math, as well as the motive to sell.
The university plans to move the students to its yet-to-be-built Outremont campus, part of a $1.6 billion project shared by the city, the province and the school. The university’s share is $350 million, said Filion.
“It's strange that we don't have money to invest into education, but we have $1.6 billion to put into this brand new campus,” said law professor Michel Seymour.
What's equally troubling to some is that the building has been purchased by the highest bidder, construction company Frank Catania and Associates, who plan to turn the building into a condominium complex.
Its president, Paolo Catania, was arrested in May on fraud, conspiracy and breach of trust charges. The arrest came following revelations about the Faubourg Contrecoeur project; the company bought city land evaluated at $31 million for about $4 million.
“I don't think it's the best idea in the world in this moment in time in our history, knowing what the Charbonneau Commission is revealing, to deal with a company that has been under accusation,” said Seymour. "It’s a huge project and we can’t afford that. We have to be more rational."
The university said the contract was signed back in 2008, before the corruption inquiry and the arrest.
“Four years ago, we didn't know anything about what’s happening now in the media. So it’s really hard for us to say anything about it, just that we have a contract and we’re going ahead for now,” said Filion.
A group of students and professors tried to block the sale by challenging the zoning, but lost in court.
They are now appealing. The condo project is on hold pending a verdict.