Editorial: University must upgrade rez buildings

By Chris Tait

The search for a first car can be quite daunting. The first choice is always whether to buy a shiny new vehicle that can be regarded as a kind of necessary investment for long-term use or a beater that may or may not need a bit of work sometime down the road. While a fresh interior with an absence of funky odors is always good, a clunker will often be enough to get you around most days.

Given the commuter culture of its hometown, this analogy should be ever-present in the minds of the University of Calgary administration when figuring out its plans for development and infrastructure in the future. The problem is, when that trip to the mechanic is put off long enough, things start falling apart: brakes wear, alignment strays, tires burst and–god forbid–engines flat-out break. All of these things can turn a great form of transportation into food for the local junkyard crusher.

The same philosophy can be applied to campus residences. If you leave a residence building at the mercy of rambunctious first-years and rez kids, sooner or later the place is going to be reduced to rubble without a little fixing up. The haggard state of the rez buildings has been very well established. First-hand accounts of silverfish darting from corner to corner and bird feces that couldn’t be cleaned from a room’s only window all year because of a lack of window washing budget are supplemented with report after report deeming the oldest accommodations unsatisfactory.

The latest of these reports puts Norquay, Brewster, Castle, Glacier and Olympus in the range of “poor,” meaning they require upgrades to comply with minimum codes and standards. They are therefore currently below Alberta Infrastructure guidelines and yet still carry residents. Given they were also judged to be in rough shape by a similar report in 2005, this issue should have at least been worked on in the past two years.

This past week, Advanced Education minister Doug Horner announced over $97 million will be given to the university, most of which is for maintenance of university buildings. Unfortunately, public money is never invested in maintaining their residences, obviously deemed a non-educational component to campus. Residence is therefore paid by mortgage. The university has just paid off that mortgage for the older residence buildings last year and is now the proud owner of what have become major fixer-uppers.

Meanwhile, the U of C recently announced its plan to build a 300-unit residence, the biggest on campus so far, to curb the city’s affordable housing crisis. Construction is already underway on the International House and half of its 180 units will also add to the new space for non-international students. However, if deferred maintenance is continuously mismanaged the way it has, 481 of the current 1,537 student spaces in residence will disappear.

The university needs to severely restructure its management of residence maintenance and stop deferring renovations. The recent Morrison Hershfield Consultants report recommended that the buildings be repaired or replaced and there will likely be more than 1,000 people waiting to get in next year.

In addition, the provincial government should recognize that–especially in today’s rental situation–affordable accommodation is one of the keys to what makes education accessible and that refusing to fund residences in Alberta is contrary to their own goals, things like improving post-secondary education.

“The Alberta government recognizes the importance of maintaining and upgrading post-secondary facilities,” said Stelmach, long before he was Premier.


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