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Trinity College sports clubs raise concerns library renovation plan could impact on playing fields


Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin

Trinity College Dublin

Sports clubs attached to Trinity College Dublin have expressed serious concerns over the potential loss of a section of their playing fields to make way for a temporary exhibition building.

Under proposals being considered by TCD’s board, a two-storey facility will be located on part of College Park while a €90m redevelopment of the Old Library is under way.

Dublin City Council granted permission for the major conservation scheme last year, with the Government committing €25m to the project, which is expected to take between three to five years to complete.

The iconic venue is home to the Book of Kells, one of Dublin’s most popular tourist attractions, with a record one million visitors in 2018.

The renovation of the Old Library, built in 1732, will involve putting hundreds of thousands of books into storage while urgent structural and environmental upgrades are carried out.

Central to the redevelopment plans are the conservation and protection of the 18th century building and its precious manuscripts and research collections.

It will also include the development of a new state-of-the art Research Collections Study Centre for students and scholars.

Essential fire protection works are also required at the library, with college authorities pointing to recent devastating blazes at international heritage sites such as Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

Heneghan Peng Architects, who successfully revitalised the National Gallery of Ireland, will be leading the design team in the development, which is expected to start in 2023.

However, while there is broad support for the library conservation works, a proposal to provide a temporary exhibition building on a section of College Park has run into opposition from a students’ union and Trinity-based sports clubs.

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Gisèle Scanlon, Graduate Students' Union President, has started an online petition calling for an alternative location to be found by the TCD board.

She said the use of College Park for an exhibition centre was “not appropriate” and claimed the loss of playing areas would impact on students’ mental health.

“The psychological impact of erecting a structure in this area for several of our students, who are also club members, must be recognised,” she told Independent.ie.

She revealed that cricket, athletics and soccer activities would be affected by any reduction in space. Dublin University AFC would lose its home ground for over three years and sports scholarship opportunities could be impacted, she warned.

“There was no consultation with students, unions or clubs before this location was proposed,” she added. “There has been a lot of talk about College Park being needed for the greater good, meaning the Old Library project. But as far as I am concerned, the greater good is the retention of this valuable sporting amenity for the sake of students’ mental health and wellbeing.

“It feels like a David versus Goliath struggle at the moment, but it is not a fait accompli, which is why we have galvanised support through a petition.”

Ms Scanlon, who sits on TCD’s board, believes that other locations for a temporary exhibition centre should be considered at New Square, Nassau carpark or even off-campus.

Fiona Doyle of Dublin University Harriers Athletic Club said they cannot afford to lose the College Park facility.

“We pride ourselves on being an easily accessible club, where recreational runners can train alongside world-class athletes,” she said. “College Park is at the heart of this.”

She added that while the club was fully behind the Old Library development project, there were “grave concerns” about the College Park element of the plan.

Trinity College confirmed that a temporary interim exhibition was needed to fund “a significant proportion” of the Old Library conservation project, which was at “an early stage”.

“Trinity has carried out an extensive survey, inside and outside the campus, to find a space for this exhibition,” a spokesperson said.

“The location is currently being explored with a wide range of stakeholders.

“A preferred location, following extensive consultation over the coming weeks, will be presented to Trinity's board in early November. The project is also dependent on planning permission and a suitable tender.

“One potential location for the exhibition under discussion is College Park, which is close to the Old Library. All stakeholders are involved in the ongoing discussions, including the representative body for sports clubs in college (DUCAC), the Presidents of both students’ unions (undergraduate and graduate) and Trinity Sport, the internal sports department, to minimise the impact on sports should this potential location be progressed.”

The spokesperson added that this was “a difficult decision” but needed to be considered in the context of the interim exhibition being essential to the Old Library conservation project.

Bursar Eleanor Denny said: “The university has embarked on an important project to restore and renew the Old Library, which is a centre of scholarship that is used by many students and staff. The project will be transformative in protecting this national treasure and will ensure the conservation of the building and collections for generations to come.

“The interim exhibition has always been part of the Old Library redevelopment project plans in order to generate revenue to cover a significant part of the conservation costs.”

It’s understood that TCD will invite tenders for the supply and design of the interim exhibition space in the coming months.