Why MacEwan Hall took so damn long to build

By Barb Wright

If you check the weather channel you will discover that hell has not, in fact, frozen over. But lo and behold on Wed., Jan. 23, MacEwan Hall opened. It is a saga that has seen six Students’ Union executives, three university Presidents, and more frustrated Gauntlet writers than you can fit into the Den. What started off as a twinkle in the eye of the SU was subsequently passed by students in a referendum in 1995. What developed from that was a design that did not fully meet the SU’s needs. Once the SU gave its collective head a shake and came up with a better design the project seemed like a shoe-in and went out to tender in 1998.

However, nothing is ever simple in university politics. In 1999, the SU decided to piss off the university by aggressively protesting 10 straight years of maximum tuition hikes and administrators looked for a bit of leverage on the issue. Possibly upset at the loss of the ability to comfortably screw students through tuition dollars, the university saw that MacEwan Hall expansion would be a lovely tool to use against the SU. The university was unable to allow construction to proceed without a new operating agreement with the SU. That caused a further 11 month delay.

But what’s a good fight without the government getting involved, right? Government legislation isn’t clear on the Students’ Union’s ability to borrow money, even though we’ve been doing it for years. The provincial government decided in the end that the SU could borrow money. Unfortunately, the SU had trouble finding a bank that agreed with the government’s interpretation, and the government wouldn’t change the law because it said it was legal. Meanwhile, the university snickered in the background.

Eventually, through the hard work of a lot of people including

SU execs, staff, university officials, board members, the Royal Bank and MLAs, a loan was struck and once again the project seemed like

it was going somewhere. Then, whilst playing with its Lego set, Campus Planning decided to

radically alter the project by moving the building to face the opposite direction, which affected construction details and caused more delays. The SU agreed to this in order to assist the new Campus Community Plan and finally get the project going.

Ground was finally broken for MacEwan Hall on October 26, 2000, and once again everything appeared to be on-track. Then the university decided there was not enough space in the expansion to put Campus Security, causing another long string of delays. Finally the details were ironed out, and although the entire expansion is still not complete, the crowning glory, the new MacEwan Hall, opened on Wednesday. No longer will you have to stomach going to the Palace to watch good bands play. And with the new tunnel, rez kids can now walk to Science Theatres without the burden of shoes (or pants).

Take the time to enjoy this building, lots of events are being planned for the new facility. As well, this certainly is not the end as new services (and new locations for old services) continue to be built in the basement of MacEwan Student Centre. This long and arduous project has caused a lot of stress for a lot of people, and many students paying into the pot probably thought this day would never come. But as of yesterday, the students’ new hall is open for business.

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