Urban campus crawls along

Current undergrad students will likely miss out on the opportunity to study in Calgary’s growing downtown core.

Plans for the University of Calgary Urban Campus are moving slowly due to a lack of funding. While the university received $4.5 million from the provincial government to put towards four initiatives: the Urban Campus, the Experiential Learning Centre, the Campus Calgary Digital Library and the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, only half a million dollars has been allocated specifically towards planning the Urban Campus, which is expected to cost $205 million.

U of C vice-president external relations Roman Cooney stressed construction is still a few years down the road.

“It all hinges on funding of course,” said Cooney. “It’s just a case of continuing to lobby the government to move it up the capital priority list. It is my hope that we will get started in 2008, but at the end of the day it’s up to the province.”

The idea behind the Urban Campus began in the fall of 2003 when faculty of environmental design dean and presidential advisor on design Brian Sinclair returned to the U of C from the United States. While there, Sinclair worked within an urban core and he realized the U of C needed a stronger connection with downtown Calgary.

“My notion of returning students to the community gelled with [U of C president Dr. Harvey] Weingarten’s,” said Sinclair. “Then the notion of an urban campus, bringing many post-secondary institutions together, began to grow.”

Cooney also noted the involve-ment of multiple institutions. Presently, the Alberta College of Art and Design, Athabasca University, Bow Valley College, Calgary Board of Education and Calgary Arts Development are all potential partners in the Urban Campus project.

“The university is in the driver’s seat, but it is very much a partnership,” he said.

The Urban Campus is based on four themes: business, collaborative arts, design and community wellness. Students could spend one or two semesters downtown to add another dimension to their degree.

“The Urban Campus would put an emphasis on service learning, delivering education in concert with the community in a real life setting,” said Sinclair.

While the campus would increase U of C’s capacity by about 5,000 spaces, this is not the project’s main objective.

“If we simply wanted to create more spaces we would build more classrooms on campus,” said Cooney.

When construction gets underway, Sinclair noted the campus will likely be located in Calgary’s downtown east side, where the project team hopes to make a positive impact through development. This location is also near the LRT, which is necessary to connect the Urban Campus to U of C’s existing campus.

Along with eight students from architecture and industrial design, Sinclair has developed a few conceptual ideas of what the campus could look like. These designs focus on creating buildings that are flexible for each institution involved, while maintaining an urban design that is accessible, approachable and sustainable. Sinclair also hopes the campus will encourage community involvement both within and around the campus.

The actual design of the campus will remain unknown until an architect is hired, but this cannot happen until funding is secured.

Alberta advanced education spokesperson Cam Traynor stressed the university still needs to go through a process before it can receive money to fund the project.

“The next step is to submit a business case to the province,” said Traynor. “We’re working very closely with the university on its capital projects and are very supportive of them.”

While Sinclair hopes to begin an international architectural competition late next fall or early next winter, he does not want to rush the process.

“It’s important to pursue the best design possible,” he said. “Student opinion is also very important.”

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