Dalhousie University engineering students leave Park Lane Cinemas in Halifax on Thursday. Over 200 students will be using the theatre for a class due to a lack of space at the nearby Sexton Campus. (PETER PARSONS / Sta
Hundreds of people filled a downtown movie theatre Thursday, but the popcorn was replaced by laptops and Batman saving Gotham was replaced by fluid mechanics and thermodynamics.
Second-year engineering classes at Dalhousie University will take place in an Empire Theatres cinema at Park Lane on Spring Garden Road this year, as the school faces an infrastructure crunch.
Dalhousieâs student population has grown so much in recent years that the university has run out of buildings to hold all its classes.
The university is paying about $54,000 per year to rent the theatre. For Empire, itâs an easy source of revenue because the space isnât used during the day.
Itâs a bit more expensive than a movie ($11.50 for a general admission ticket versus about $8,500 for a year of Dalhousie engineering), but students didnât seem to mind the unusual setting after the first day of class.
âSubconsciously, you want to be watching a movie but youâre not,â said student Josh Jobin. âItâs not a horrible idea. I like it.â
He said the padded seats made it tempting to fall asleep during the class.
Trays that attach to the cupholders turn the theatre seats into makeshift desks, while the built-in projector beams slides onto the big screen. The instructorâs voice also gains a certain authority by being plugged into the Dolby surround sound system.
âSo far itâs pretty good. The lighting is OK,â said Corey Brown, one of the 250 to 300 students who will spend 8:30 a.m. to about noon each weekday in the theatre.
âItâs different, for sure.â
Pemberton Cyrus, the engineering schoolâs associate dean of undergraduate studies, didnât know who came up with the theatre idea but heâs blunt about why itâs necessary.
âWe ran out of space.â
Just four years ago, the first-year engineering class had 230 students, last year it reached 365, said Cyrus.
The university considered all options to the space crunch, including hiring more professors. Still there isnât any class space at the downtown Sexton campus capable of holding that many students even if the class sizes was made smaller, Cyrus said.
While there are a couple lecture halls on the larger Studley campus that could, those are booked up with other classes.
The engineering school plans to build a brand new building with larger class sizes, but the school hasnât raised the estimated $20 million to $30 million needed to construct it.
So movie theatres will have to do for the next few years.
The use of theatres began last year. Cyrus concedes the transition has been rocky.
âItâs not the best,â he said âSome profs love it, some donât.â
Initially, there were student complaints about the makeshift desks. They also complained about the big screen, saying its large size forced them to twist their necks back and forth in order to read the large text.
Cyrus said the school has been working to fix those problems this year.
Dalhousie isnât the only institution renting out movie theatres. The Deep Water Church also holds its Sunday services at Park Lane.
That means as much as six days a week at the theatre for Tate Linzel, a second-year engineering student and member of the Deep Water Church. But he says he enjoys the class setting.
Over the past decade Dalhousie has undergone a $250-million fundraising blitz to build several new buildings. But itâs still had trouble keeping up as enrollment has boomed. There are 17,505 students registered at Dalhousie this fall.