MacHall expansion slow-going progress

By Kim Stock

For anyone familiar with the Students’ Union’s MacEwan Hall expansion project and MacEwan Student Centre redevelopment, it may come as a surprise to see construction underway.

"We are currently working on redevelopment projects within the building," said SU Vice-president Operations and Finance Amanda Affonso.

MSC redevelopment includes designing [for parallel construction] a new Max Café, relocating the Information Centre to the north corner of MSC (by Varsity Drugs) and putting infills over Max Café to create retail space for new businesses. Mac Hall expansion would consists of a new ballroom facility between the Nickle Arts Museum and Science Complex.

"Blueprints and schematic designs are complete for both the expansion and redevelopment," said SU President Rob South. "Last year we were essentially ready to go, and then we ran into some problems with tendering and financing."

The SU has searched for a financial institution to loan money at a reasonable interest rate.

"We’re at the point right now where we’re trying to secure our financing," said Affonso. "We need about $10 million for the project."

One reason the SU is encountering difficulty securing a loan is that the Alberta government no longer grants loans to organizations such as the SU.

"The government went through a lot of fiscal reforms in the early ’90s, and by doing this, unconsciously left out the potential to get projects like this financed in a reasonable manner," said South.

While the SU can get a loan, it would be at a very high interest rate.

"We have a very high risk assessment in the eyes of banks," said South. "This is because of a couple of things: the U of C can neither take out a loan on our behalf, nor can they guarantee any loan that we take out. Also, because the expansion would be occurring on university land, the SU wouldn’t own the building, so we can’t guarantee the bricks and mortar for it."

South has actively pursued the issue by speaking with U of C President Terry White and representatives from the Alberta government, including MLA Murray Smith.

"I do feel that the redevelopment project shows that we’ve undertaken a very positive first step, showing our commitment and ability to get things done whilst other details have been held up," said South.

Referring to a platform promise, South added that if expansion isn’t started or close to starting by the end of October, he will recommend that council re-assess the project. One possibility is a referendum to see if students wish to pursue expansion.

"I honestly had not envisioned that getting a loan could be such a difficult process," said South. "We’re the first students’ association in the province to be undertaking such a big project that requires a loan since fiscal reforms have occurred. We’re breaking new ground, so that’s why at times the project has been very tedious."

The SU hopes to have the entire project started soon.

"We’re preparing to expand, and we’re confident that we’ll be able to get a loan at a reasonable interest rate," said South.

After financing is secured, the tendering (bidding) process will begin again and construction will follow.

"All I can say is cross your fingers and hope that we will be able to negotiate something," said Affonso.

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