By Wendy Maloff

After six years of headaches and $9 million later, the new MacEwan Hall on the University of Calgary campus officially opened on Wed., Jan. 23.

Unsurprisingly, the grand opening celebrations scheduled to begin at noon were delayed for approximately 20 minutes.

"We’re keeping with the spirit of the expansion," joked Students’ Union Vice-President Events Chris Kerr.

Once started, festivities included speeches by U of C President Dr. Harvey Weingarten, followed by SU President Barb Wright.

Dr. Weingarten commended the students on their financial contribution to the project, which took roughly 15 months to complete.

"The lion’s share was financed by students," he said, highlighting the contribution levied from U of C students for the last six years.

Weingarten also emphasized that extra-curricular activities are a vital part of a student’s university career. Following his speech, Weingarten unveiled a plaque dedicating the new venue and recognizing its sponsors.

Wright spoke candidly about problems that arose during both the six-year expansion saga and particularly the last year of actual construction.

"It’s often seemed over the past six years that if something could go wrong on this project it did," she stated wryly. "I say to all my fellow cynics out there, it is time to admit it and say that yes, we did accomplish something great here and it is finally finished."

After the speeches concluded, Wright cut a red ribbon to officially open new MacEwan Hall. Eager spectators moved in led by piper Fraser Abbott of the U of C Pipe Band.

Events inside the new ballroom moved quickly. Kerr took the stage to pop a ceremonial bottle of champagne and 1,000 balloons were released from the ceiling. Upon the announcement that prize vouchers were inside three of the balloons, the audience proceeded to pop them all.

"I especially liked the balloons," said Nic Porco, the SU VP Academic. "They sounded like fireworks."

Calgary band The Mocking Shadows had the honour of being the first band to play the new venue, while the audience took advantage of free cake and refreshments.

Despite some voicing concerns about poor advertising for the event, Kerr was very happy with the turnout.

"I think it was partly due to my walking through the food court with a bullhorn announcing there was free cake," he said.

Both Weingarten and Wright expressed that they saw the new facilities as being beneficial to the City of Calgary as well as the U of C.

"MacEwan Hall is double the capacity of the original ballroom and features state-of-the-art acoustic and improved backstage facilities," explained Wright. Approximately 1,800 people can fit into the new ballroom and its surrounding area.

Kerr was excited about the new possibilities the venue offers, but explained that there would still be a place for acts with smaller audiences.

"It’s going to be quite a bit different, we’ll be able to have higher profile, bigger, more popular talent," Kerr explained. "But the beauty of this ballroom is that we can divide it in half to have the same capacity as the old Ballroom."

Another change that patrons of the new venue may notice is increased security.

"Security obviously has to be balanced with attendance," said Kerr. "In light of all the recent attention to alcohol events, security is going to be quite beefed up."

The new venue will be used for live music and other events including conferences and tradeshows.

The old ballroom will continue to be used for smaller events and gatherings and is due for renovations in 2003 or 2004.

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