The University of Calgary is holding a sod-turning ceremony for the joint Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy and Experiential Learning Centre building on Sept. 11. There's an ad for it on page 19 of this very paper, and there is sure to be burgers, important politicians and maybe even fireworks. But someone needs to bring attention to what's missing from the ceremony. Despite the public relations extravaganza, the estimated $282 million in funding won't be in place. There won't even be a finalized blueprint.
This pomp and circumstance prior to planning seems to be a common theme at the U of C lately. The university has been very public about massive expansion plans to meet what they claim is an unprecedented surge in enrollment. However, what the U of C's smooth-talking external relations department shows the public and what is actually happening on campus are two different things. So different in fact, that--at this point--U of C's 7,000 new spaces are more of a dream than a reality.
Rather than improving or adding to existing spaces, the university's grandiose vision includes three brand new buildings at a total cost of $1.5 billion--only $113 million of which is confirmed thus far. You do the math. To be built by 2010, these projects need to be started immediately, and that's a lot of missing dollars for the provincial government to come up with this year.
A similar scenario to the ISEEE building sod-turing occurred this past April when the Calgary Campus Digital Library held its "ground-breaking" on the west side of the MacKimmie Library Block. Though the CCDL ceremony was accompanied by a funding announcement, it was held before the university really had an idea what the building would look like, and before top floors were even planned out. The fanfare included then advanced education minister Dave Hancock and U of C president Dr. Harvey Weingarten clapping as a backhoe broke the ground and then shaking hands over a giant cake and a background of fireworks. Five months later, the backhoes haven't returned, and the original sod has been safely restored.
The final U of C building-to-be--and the one external relations likes to promote to the public the most--is the Urban Campus. Even though the U of C has been talking about putting a massive $205 million building behind City Hall since February 2004, none of the funding for the project has been approved. Nevertheless, students shouldn't be surprised to get an invite to the Urban Campus groundbreaking--or cement splitting--ceremony. Of course, for that to work out the U of C will have to perform a public relations feat of near-epic proportions and clear out the homeless population and crack dealers who currently reside behind City Hall.
Projects like the Early Childhood Development Centre--currently under construction on the west campus--prove the university's building projects can be successful, but this real, planned-out building has received only a fraction of the hype of the other elusive plans. Students and the general public need to take the U of C's expansion announcements with a grain of salt, because it seems the university seldom has the land, plans or money in place before selling their elaborate success stories to the public.