Editorial: Creating history

By Chris Beauchamp

The University of Calgary wants to add a bit of community to campus by embarking on a multi-million dollar project to rip out the roads on the south side of MacEwan Student Centre and replace them with sprawling green space.

The Taylor Family Quadrangle is a partner project to the planned digital library and was made possible thanks to a $25 million donation by Calgary philanthropists Don and Ruth Taylor. The quadrangle will be modeled after traditional quadrangles, which were originally walled gardens at the centre of medieval monasteries. “Quads,” like the one the U of C envisions, are commonplace on historic English campuses like Cambridge and Oxford, as well as ivy-league American schools like Stanford and Harvard. They provide a vehicle-free green space for students to walk, sit and be awed by the historic buildings surrounding them on four sides.

When constructed in the centres of classic ivy-covered campuses with hundreds of years of history behind them, many campus quads are indeed the “heart of campus,” as U of C planners have dubbed the proposed green space. That said, building a quad on the 40-year-old U of C campus seems an attempt to build hundreds of years of prestige and history into a university where it simply doesn’t exist. Sandwiching a quad between the glass-panelled MacEwan Student Centre and the yet-to-be-constructed Taylor Family Digital Library in a city where grass is green only five months of the year will have a much different effect than a quad surrounded by ancient brick and stone.

If the university goes ahead with its built-in-history plan–which is almost certain at this point–a second problem arises in the actual logistics of the quad project. As it is currently planned, the quad requires the removal of all roads on the south side of MacEwan Student Centre, which will be no small feat. This road removal will also require relocation of the busy MSC loading docks from the south side to the north side of the building, possibly in the area where the Nickel Arts Museum currently resides. The MSC docks are the busiest on campus, serving the Den and Black Lounge, the bookstore and all other MSC vendors.The second loading docks that service the Mac Hall concert venue will also have to be rethought. Though there are no solid numbers yet, the cost of relocating these docks is estimated to be well into the tens of millions of dollars.

While campus planners argue 18-wheelers driving past students as they walk to class isn’t a good atmosphere in which to learn, relocating the docks to the north side of MSC will just transfer the “poor atmosphere” to another location. If and when the docks move, engineers and anyone parking in lots 10 or 11 will still walk past semi-trucks on their way to class. Short of airlifting goods directly onto campus, there is no way to stop them from driving onto campus.

Along with the relocation of the MSC docks, the library loading docks will also have to move. Though plans are only preliminary, the university has brought up the idea of building underground tunnels for the trucks to pass through en route to the library.

Moving the loading docks or building underground tunnels would quite easily eat up the $25 million donated by the Taylors, before even beginning construction on the quadrangle or the digital library. For the digital library–a project whose opening date has already been pushed back twice, and is well over its initial budget of $113 million–plans of underground tunnels and road removal do not bode well for the project being finished, or even getting underway, anytime soon.

A major criticism of the U of C is its lack of historical charm, and it’s admirable the university wants to improve the campus image. With buildings from the ’60s-era Science A, to the ultra-futuristic ICT, nothing matches and the U of C lacks the sense of prestige that accompanies historic architecture on older campuses. But a multi-million dollar project to rip up existing green space to build new green space–based on an historic model not relevant to the U of C campus–may not be the best idea. The university should reconsider their options before moving ahead with such a costly project.