Editorial: Deferred university

Campus Calgary Digital Library, groundbreaking ceremony: Mar. 31, 2006. That was then.

Taylor Family Digital Library, groundbreaking ceremony: spring 2008. This is Now.

The outside community may need repeated groundbreaking ceremonies and front-page Calgary Herald stories on funding to bring their gaze back to the University of Calgary, but the general university population needs no reminder. Anyone who strolls the campus daily is fairly aware of at least the basic elements of what’s going on around campus as far as infrastructure is concerned. What the outside community may have missed is the lack of actual progress in physical construction made on these university projects that have gone through various stages of announcements, delays and deadlines.

The Taylor Family Digital Library is just one example. The groundbreaking ceremony 16 months ago had no correlation to any actual construction and no shovels or rocks were hurt in the making. The original dates announced for the library were construction for fall 2006, and completion by 2008 (“What’s with that big white tent?” Chris Beauchamp, Mar. 30, 2006, the Gauntlet). Obviously those didn’t and aren’t going to happen, respectively, but administration liked the first groundbreaking so much, they’re having another. For the same building. No word yet if they saved money by booking the big white tent for two events at the same time. This time, provost Dr. Alan Harrison assures us it will be a literal ground breaking ceremony instead of a figurative one.

Of all the capital projects, this is the obvious example to pull out as a representative of the whole. The dates of all the projects have moved around so much, how can we take any of them seriously?

U of C officials have made a concerted effort to let the student population know what’s happening with booths set up around campus with information, volunteers ready to answer questions, free cake and free keychains Mon., Sep. 10 and superfluous construction fencing around MacKimmie Library, which is laudable for the former and laughable for the latter. But to anyone paying attention, it’s obvious that these things are relatively meaningless and to anyone who has been looking even closer, it just seems bizarre.

In the last two years of capital reports, the 2005­-2009 business plan and Building Momentum, 2006’s capital plan outline, the dates of starting construction and of completion have changed across the board.

The various impeding factors of Calgary’s construction market and obtaining funding from the tight fists of the holders of the provincial purse-string obviously affected these shifts, but that should be part of any capital planning. The university was simply overly ambitious and announced ahead far before funding has been received and plans were designed.

The digital library, when the ground was officially broken in 2006, had most of the funding, but the plans were by no means finalized. Yet, they had said that construction was going to start fall 2006.

The urban campus, an even bigger mystery, was only vaguely addressed in the 2005-2009 business plan, but the construction was marked on their capital planning timeline as beginning in 2006-2007. These timelines are probably meant as more guidelines than anything else, but with no funding and no complete plans. It was a considerable leap of faith to even think they were going to be built within two years. To date, the urban campus has no provincial funding and no finalized plans.

With the urban campus and its 4,000-5,000 spaces in flux, the addition of 7,000 student spaces by 2010 is in jeopardy of being another failed figure with the various capital time lines and construction dates. Dr. Harrison insisted the 7,000 figure was never intended to be any sort of guarantee and was more of an estimate of the demand for spaces. But when you call it a target in your annual report, it isn’t just an estimate of demand. Reframing it seems very much like dodging failure.

There are still three years left and ultimately it is up to the Alberta government to decide if the 7,000 spaces will happen. The university continuously re-broadcasting this need puts pressure on the government, but administration needs to be accountable for the dates and numbers it puts out there. Ambition is a great thing, but so is accountability when that ambition misses the mark.

For the reports mentioned in this editorial, please visit www.ucalgary.ca/president/reports for the 2005-2009 business plan and ucalgary.ca/capitalexpansion/projectsummary for Building Momentum.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.