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The urban campus project is shaping up to be another slow endeavour, spending the last four years in planning.
the Gauntlet

No end in sight for urban campus

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While the University of Calgary is still dreaming of an extended campus, progress continues at a snail's pace.

Four years ago, the U of C introduced the idea of building an urban campus to allow students to study in downtown Calgary and to help revitalize the East Village. The U of C is currently negotiating with EnCana Corporation to develop a satellite campus in the new EnCana tower. The urban campus partnership is also in discussions with the Alberta College of Art & Design to see if space can be found for ACAD's relocation. However, the urban campus is still a long way from completion and the provincial Advanced Education and Technology Minister Doug Horner questioned its need.

The urban campus partnership consists of the U of C, the University of Lethbridge, SAIT, Athabasca University, Bow Valley College and the Calgary Board of Education. The proposed urban campus site is in Calgary's East Village, a block east of City Hall. No official date for completion has been set. U of C vice president external relations Roman Cooney explained the EnCana partnership would allow the U of C to respond quickly to tremendous pressures from the lack of space on the main campus.

"We think it is a very good fit for some programs such as Haskayne School of Business, continuing education and fine arts because the EnCana tower is in the heart of the city's cultural district," explained Cooney.

He also pointed out that the new campus would allow the U of C to reach its current growth target.

"We felt that new spaces for 4,000 students are needed in Calgary and, if anything, may be low given the tremendous pressure on post-secondary education and health care," said Cooney.

He added the urban campus partnership needs $5 to $10 million for planning detailed costs, desired programs and negotiations with ACAD.

"There are many questions that need to be answered in the planning stage before we can proceed," said Cooney. "How many students in what programs would attend the urban campus? How much space do we need? What space do we need to share with other partners? Differences between the urban campus and main campus and how would the urban campus be run?"

Horner is skeptical of the urban campus' price tag and told the Calgary Herald in an April 30 article that he would not invest any more money until the U of C convinced him that the project is the best answer to Calgary's post-secondary accessibility issues.

"Students and taxpayers want us to be prudent with how we allocate limited resources for space," said Horner.

Cooney was concerned with Horner's comments, but he admitted Horner's question is a fair one.

"The University has already invested at least $1 million in this project," said Cooney. "We're asking the Minister to give us the resources to get to the level of detail he wants. It's a shared responsibility."

He warned that a lack of money from the provincial government could slow progress.

"Certainly we will need to see a decision on EnCana sooner than later because of the construction being underway," said Cooney.

The urban campus partnership is also in discussions with ACAD to see if they can accommodate a new space for the college in a stand alone building on the campus.

ACAD president Lance Carlson pointed out that ACAD is hoping to find a new permanent site for its campus given its ill-suited current location on the SAIT campus.

"Our current building was designed to service approximately 750 art and design students," said Carlson. "Now, we presently have 1,150 students in our baccalaureate degree programs so we require space to grow--especially with our new authority to offer graduate degrees."

Carlson noted that there would be benefits for ACAD to work closely on the urban campus project, such as relocating to city centre with its arts community and collaboration with other post-secondary partners. However, Carlson is afraid that the 490,000 square feet available for the urban campus project might not be enough for ACAD's needs.

"Because this is our entire campus rather than a small splinter initiative from a larger campus, ACAD must be vigilant in making certain our needs are provided for in any move, so we are exploring all options," said Carlson.

Bow Valley College campus expansion vice-president Bernard Benning is more optimistic.

"I think the concept is a great idea for a great city and, without the U of C leadership, this project would not happen," said Benning.

He explained that BVC got involved in this project because a "learning village" allows students more opportunities to learn in a new educational neighbourhood.

Ward 7 Alderman Druh Farrell is looking forward to the completion of the urban campus as a catalyst project that would inject vitality into the East Village.

"A true campus brings youth and ideas, in addition with restaurants, live music, student housing, meeting places and other aspects of student life," added Farrell.

Despite the cost, Cooney is still confident in the project going ahead because students told him they are learning things in downtown pilot programs that they would not learn on the main campus.

"This is not about a building, but it's about adding new dimensions to the educational experience," said Cooney. "I wish it were easier, but new things rarely are."

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