By Rob South
The changing face of research on campus may soon be symbolized by a new building, the Research Transition Facility, but with the proposal for the RTF comes controversy.
Envisioned as a facility for professors to turn research into products and services for the public, the RTF will feature Calgary Laboratory Services as a tenant that occupies approximately 75 per cent of the building’s space.
The University Heights Community Association believes the lease with CLS makes it illegal for the RTF to be built on its proposed site on the university reserve lands–an area of land west of University Heights and east of Shaganappi Trail.
"The term sheet itself is nothing but a commercial lease," said University Heights Director of Development Craig McDougall.
The University of Calgary believes its proposed partnership with CLS is well within the terms for land use set when the university acquired the reserve lands from the province in 1995.
"The fact that the major tenant is Calgary Laboratory Services is still consistent with the university’s research purpose," said U of C Executive Director of External Relations Stu Reid. "Half of the pathologists at CLS have faculty appointments at the U of C, many of them have research grants through Alberta Heritage Medical Research Foundation or other programs."
CLS’s primary business is doing diagnostic work for the Calgary Regional Health Authority. It will run a diagnostic and scientific lab at RTF which will operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. University Heights, already concerned about current traffic levels, is worried about the potential increase of vehicles the RTF will create.
"Any major facility near the [Foothills] hospital will do nothing but put pressure on the situation," said McDougall.
The U of C commissioned a traffic study to examine the effects the RTF and other potential construction projects will have on the communities surrounding the university. Additionally, the CRHA and CLS have to commission a third-party environmental study before any construction on the RTF can start.
"The one piece of information we don’t have is any good information about what type of airborne biohazards might be released by the facility," said McDougall.
The U of C held several meetings to try to address the concerns of University Heights and other community groups. On May 24 there was a meeting between university area residents, the U of C and Murray Smith, Calgary Varsity’s Member of the Legislative Assembly.
"The local community associations have a very important role to play in this proposal and we look forward to working closely with them during the coming weeks," said Reid.
The construction and operational costs for the RTF will be covered by the CLS lease. After all costs are covered, there may be additional money left over from the lease and, if so, the university plans to put this money back into its general operating budget. U of C Associate Vice-president Finance Richard Roberts sees the RTF and its contract with CLS as part of an emerging trend.
"That particular facility and the approach that is being taken is indicative of the situation that we find ourselves in now," he said. "We’re not getting the funding from the province or we don’t have the resources available to just go and put these facilities up even though they are key to our mandate."