Breaking new ground

Amid a fanfare of fireworks, seven-story-tall posters and enough food to feed an army of hungry students, the University of Calgary launched its $1.5 billion capital expansion plan, Mon. Sept. 11.

At a groundbreaking ceremony on the east side of ICT, the U of C celebrated the first day of classes by announcing plans to build four new capital projects: the Calgary Campus Digital Library, the Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy, the Urban Campus and the Experiential Learning Centre. University administration hopes these four projects will add 7,000 new student spaces by 2010.

U of C president Dr. Harvey Weingarten said the university has to move forward with these capital projects, even though the government has approved only $113 million of the estimated $1.5 billion required to finish all four.

“I know some of my colleagues think 7,000 students may be an ambitious goal, but this is not the time in Calgary, or at the U of C, to be hesitant at all,” Weingarten told the approximately 300 staff, students and politicians in attendance. “We are simply turning away too many qualified students.”

Weingarten told media that, like other capital projects in the province, university infrastructure and human resources have “fallen behind” and the U of C board of governors feel they have to move forward, whether funding is in place or not.

“The government is in the same bind we are,” said Weingarten. “They’re trying to accommodate the growth that’s there. Are we growing? Yes. Are we growing fast enough to accommodate the demand? No. One of the things the board of the university has done is said ‘We simply cannot delay.'”

Weingarten said the CCDL, to be located west of the MacKimmie Library Block, is the first priority of the four buildings as funding for the $113 million facility has already been approved. The university held a groundbreaking for the CCDL last April. Weingarten said he expects construction to begin later this fall.

The ISEEE building is next on the priority list, followed by the Urban Campus project and then the ELC, said Weingarten.

Economic Development Minister Clint Dunford was also in attendance at the groundbreaking to show his support for the capital projects. A graduate of the U of C in 1966, Dunford compared his experiences to those of current students.

“The type of learning we were involved in was pretty damn dull,” said Dunford. “It’s exciting to think that students now are going to run out of excuses not to learn.”

Experiential Learning Centre project manager Mike Boorman explained the new ELC will allow students to take a more hands-on approach to learning.

“The [ELC] will increase university efficiency and allow undergraduates to interact with graduate students and professors,” said Boorman. “Research spaces will mimic closely real laboratory conditions where students can work on both team-based and self-directed research projects.”

Rather than a traditional groundbreaking, the ceremony included planting a tree to represent the environmental focus of ISEEE.

After the tree planting, seven-story-tall posters were unveiled on the side of ICT and fireworks were shot off the building roof.

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