Capital projects in need of cash

The University of Calgary has some massive plans for expansion in the next four years, but only if the provincial government comes through with massive cash.

A provincial government funding injection announced last March means the U of C admitted 660 more students this September than last, and the university plans to further increase enrollment by 7,000 spaces by 2010 if funding is approved.

Of the 660 new seats this year, 438 are funded by the provincial Access to the Future endowment, mainly in the new Institute for Sustainable Energy, Environment and Economy. Heath sciences also saw an increase in spaces.

“We put our best pitch forward for growth and the government decides, ultimately where that growth will be approved,” said assistant vice-president enrollment and registrar Kathleen Massey. “We can’t just switch tactics, we have to honour what it is that the government has approved.”

This funding will compound growth as students return, adding almost 1,700 seats within the next four years. As of Aug. 18 there were 220 more students than last year at the graduate level and 440 at the undergraduate level, said Massey.

Students’ Union VP academic Shannon O’Connor cautioned that such rapid expansion must be carefully planned to avoid growing pains.

“With the funding for new buildings, you also need funding for new professors or class sizes will skyrocket,” said O’Connor, noting that the 7,000 projected new seats are just that–a projection.

“It depends on how their construction goes, but I wouldn’t bank on it,” said O’Connor adding she hopes the 7,000 new spaces become a reality to help meet demand.

In order for the U of C to meet its goal by 2010, the provincial government still has to approve funding for the planned urban campus.

If approved, the joint project between the U of C, the Calgary Board of Education, Athabasca University, Bow Valley College, SAIT and the University of Lethbridge is expected to cost $205 million and add 2,500 new spaces at the U of C.

The other seats will come from the new ISEEE building and Experiential Learning Centre.

The U of C has requested $282 million for the ISEEE building, plus an additional $40 million for phase one of the ELC, said ISEEE communications director Mark Lowey. If approved, this will add 3,500 new spaces.

The Campus Calgary Digital Library will add the remaining 1,000 seats. Funding for the $113 million CCDL was approved last spring, but construction has not yet begun.

U of C provost and VP academic Dr. Alan Harrison admitted the U of C’s plan for 7,000 new seats depends on funding.

“It is a lofty goal,” said Harrison. “The additional spaces will be very heavily dependant on whether we do, in fact, establish the urban campus, and that’s yet to be determined. If we don’t get the money, we won’t be able to engage in that expansion.”

Harrison also acknowledged the SU’s concerns with class sizes and quality of education, and said the university will expand only when it has enough govern- ment funding to do so.

“The key message is to control growth and make sure any growth we do experience is fully-funded growth,” said Harrison. “Unless there are appropriate funds accompanying the extra students, the quality of education is going to suffer.”

The Access to the Future endowment is designed to grow out of yearly surpluses and provide funding for post-secondary education projects to improve access and quality. Currently, the endowment has a total value of $1 billion and provides $45 million per year for PSE investment in Alberta.

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