Downtown, here we come

By Sarelle Azuelos

The University of Calgary has taken another small step in its long, long journey downtown.

After a promise of $5 million annually from the province for a lease this summer, the U of C chose the home of its future downtown campus.

The site, at 906 Eighth Ave. SW, isn’t the first location the university had in mind, but the original complex proved too complicated to pull together, said U of C president Harvey Weingarten.

The original East Village site was a partnership with Bow Valley College, SAIT, Athabasca University and the U of C that would house up to 15,000 students.

“It was a difficult, complicated project with many, many partners and elements to it and it just didn’t happen,” he said.

The current project is smaller, with space for about 500 full and part-time students. Weingarten expects the high level of community involvement to bring this number up to several thousand people walking through the space each day.

“If you look across campus, it’s interesting, almost every program and faculty at this university has ways in which they engage with the community,” he said. “Students benefit tremendously from those interactions. Their course-work becomes real, they understand immediately the relevances.”

The space will be split between students who take all their classes there and others who commute between the downtown and main campuses.

Programs like continuing education and business will remain downtown permanently, while others like nursing, fine arts and law will move back and forth depending on when courses are offered.

The building will be gutted and refurbished by developer North West Properties, said vice-president capital and planning Bob Ellard. He estimated the construction costs for NWP to be around $50 million. The U of C will then equip the space with classrooms for between $10 to $15 million. The building previously housed a Calgary Health Region facility.

“The intent is not to duplicate what is on this campus, but more to compliment it,” he said.

Ellard added that the building will have a leadership in environmental energy and design silver certification. Silver requires developers to recycle waste from construction and install energy saving water management, lighting and heating facilities.

In a Calgary Herald article Saturday, alderman John Mar said a new complex and students would help revive the “dodgy” area.

Second-year community rehabilitation student Kayla Timmins said she wouldn’t want to travel to the west side of downtown on her own.

“I’m not really trusting of the downtown area unfortunately,” she said. “I don’t think I’d feel that safe or comfortable [travelling there].”

The campus is scheduled to open fall 2010. Weingarten thanked the provincial government for their support.

“This is an innovative way to create the space for post-secondary institutes,” he said. “It’s a little unusual, but it gets us good space quickly.”

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