Why pigs fly: an expansion story

MacEwan Hall expansion has closely resembled the Canada Pension Plan over the last five years as something we keep paying into but for which we don’t expect a return. Well, those green fences aren’t up to keep us in; believe it or not, the official Mac Hall groundbreaking took place on Oct. 26. Look up. Look waaaay up. You might just see pigs flying.

In all seriousness though, how long does it take to get a project like this going? For the U of C Students’ Union, it took five years. In October 1995, students voted in favour of expanding Mac Hall, but unless you were a first-year student or are on some incredibly long journey towards your undergrad degree, most of those who originally voted for expansion are long gone. Their money will pay for part of this building, but they’ll never reap the benefits.

Over the years, expansion experienced many growing pains, the most recent of which was a change in location. Originally, Mac Hall was to be expanded towards the new Information Communications Technology building, the SU having developed their plans long before the ICT was ever conceived of, but the U of C took less time to get going. The SU, an entirely different entity, was plagued by a continuously changing executive who felt the need to reconceptualize what expansion actually should be several times. For example, in 1997 a dental office and optometrist were proposed for the new space and in 1998 SLC approved the "redevelopment master plan," which has been responsible for the ongoing relocation of the north stairwell in MSC for the past two years and the exciting new location of Taco Time across the hall from its old location. Now, due to a lack of green space between Mac Hall and the new buildings, they’ve been forced to change their plans and to construct eastward towards Swann Mall.

Expansion also offered the opportunity for our student politicians to display their chuffed up egos, leading them to make grandiose proclamations that were never correct… or even close. For example: "Construction could begin as early as Spring 1996, with a completion date of Fall 1996," said SU President Kate Kimberly (October 1995). "Ground will be broken in July. If everything goes well, completion will be August 1998," said SU Vice-president Akin Jeje (February 1997). "The hole is being dug in September and there is no turning back," said SU President Paul Galbraith (July 1998).

Right, and these are the same people we hope will get us lower tuition increases. Let’s just hope the real reason expansion kept getting delayed was because of their hard work on important student issues.

Of course, some problems were out of the SU’s control, such as when the architect’s offices were robbed in 1997 and the original plans were lost, or when tender fell through in 1998, or when they were unable to secure a loan in 1999-2000 due to the Royal Bank’s first interpretation of the Universities’ Act. Of course, shouldn’t they have been investigating a loan long before 1999 ever rolled around?

Well, don’t worry, students many years from now will still be paying for it so don’t feel slighted, thinking you’re the only ones who have put your money in the pot. The SU’s $10 million loan will take 20 years to pay off at $900,000 a year. Enjoy.

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