MacHall renos to finish by September

By Brent Constantin

Summer students may have noticed changes in MacEwan Student Centre over the past few weeks, most notably the large white walls erected around the former seating area near the ATMs. Though this might be the most visible change, it’s not the only one.

The Students’ Union started major renovations around MacHall in anticipation of the fall semester when returning students will be greeted by four new food vendors upstairs as well as a relocated That Empty Space.

“The reason we started all of this construction in the first place was that we wanted to bring in new vendors,” said SU vice-president operations and finance James Delaney. From there, the SU decided to upgrade That Empty Space and increase club space.

“It just sort of evolved from that.”

The project hopes to provide undergraduates with new options for meals, increased seating capacity, additional clubs space and a larger That Empty Space to accommodate a growing student body.

“The goal for the whole renovation of the two floors is September 1, before everyone gets back to school,” said Brian Bolding, Facilities and Redevelopment project manager for the SU. “Being summer, the majority of the students are away and that’s the best time to do some work and make some noise. So far we’re on schedule, but we always run into new things each time we open up a wall. The demolition was completed a couple of months ago and now we are fully under construction.”

Earlier in the year the SU put out a request to the student body for input into the type of food they’d like to see available in the building.

“We got, in my opinion, disappointingly low turn out,” said Delaney, noting that only around 100 students responded.

While the SU has tentatively decided on three of the vendors, Delaney was unable to confirm any names due to renegotiation of the SU’s lease with the university in four years. With most vendors looking to sign five-year lease agreements there are still some legal issues to be settled. Delaney did outline what some of the criteria for choices were.

“Healthier food was a huge request,” said Delaney, who also mentioned that Indian food was a popular option. “We approached as many healthy places as we could, but we learned that it’s hard for those types of places to survive in an environment like this. Everyone says they want healthy food and then everyone eats at A&W. We tried, and hopefully students will be happy with what we got.”

Delaney said the vendors “will be adding some significant revenue” to the SU’s budget.

“We charge a fair bit per square foot. Right now I believe it makes up about seven per cent of our revenue.”

The four new vendors will be located in the main cafeteria directly across from both Tim Hortons, starting at the current ATM location and ending next to That Empty Space.

Behind the new retail locations will be a hallway in “the most under used space in MacHall,” said Delaney.

What was once storage, office space and janitorial areas will become an additional 200 seats of study space with the removal of the old That Empty Space.

“There will be a hallway going down to an area opening up into new open concept seating,” said Delaney describing the new layout. “To the right the SU will be installing offices on a ‘flex basis.’ So if you need an office for the month you can book it, or for the day or for the week. We also may have some permanent offices for Students’ Union elections. The ATMs will be moved from their current position to the new hallway, basically the flip side of where they are now.”

More space for students will be found downstairs in what used to be the old CJSW offices. Since the move to their third floor location with the rest of Campus Tri-Media, construction has gone on to renovate part of the basement offices into club space.

“These spaces down here got to be kind of a bonus when CJSW left their offices and their studios,” said Bolding. “The concept for this club space is an open concept as opposed to our other one with lots of little hidey-hole rooms. We’re going to ring the exterior walls with lockers for clubs to store their individual materials in, and then tables and other furniture can be reconfigured as needed. So we hope it’s well used and can serve quite a number of clubs.”

The new space will allow any of over 200 clubs on campus to book the area.

Another push for growth is the new That Empty Space in the basement next door to Subway in what some students might remember as Campus Cove. SU VP student life Jennifer Abbott said the new event area will be well used and expects the increased capacity of the area to make booking the space attractive to campus groups.

“We keyed up 200,” said Bolding on the capacity of the new Empty Space. “There’s an official number the city is going to give, but it’s about double the size of the space upstairs. Officially in the old space the capacity was 67 people. So we’re going to get at least double the capacity.”

Plans for the space include more than just Friday bands, hopefully encouraging student clubs to book the space out for themselves. The new Empty Space will have a permanent staging area as well as removable furniture and a set up geared towards sound and light for the stage. Bar service will also be available for certain events near the entrance.

“I think even after the design it’s going to take a life on of its own,” said Bolding. “Just like the old Empty Space upstairs, places evolve and they develop their own character.”

The SU is looking to implement sustainable practices in all future renovations. These new construction projects include light sensors to automatically turn off and on.

“We want everything in the building on sensors,” said Bolding. “We’ve been able to do that everywhere right now but public spaces, the food court especially. It’s very difficult, but that is the eventual goal of the Students’ Union.”

The SU is budgeting the renovations at $2.2 million, with most of the funds coming from quality money, but hopes to come in under that amount.

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