U of C’s downtown campus passes one year mark

By Christopher Blatch

The downtown University of Calgary campus just celebrated its one year mark.

The U of C leased a building located at 8th Ave and 8th Street S.W. and renovated the first four floors, where classes in business and professional development began a year ago. Courses in continuing education, business, energy and environment, and public policy are available at the downtown campus. The faculty of public policy is currently awaiting approval from the provincial government to grant degrees.

The location of the campus downtown and the type of courses gives the U of C a greater involvement in the business community in Calgary, according to the vice president of facilities management and development, Bob Ellard.

“All of those departments [offered at the downtown campus] work very closely with the downtown community and businesses,” said Ellard. “We have a foothold with them that we want to build on.”

The university originally planned for a much larger campus in the redeveloped East Village area of downtown, but a lack of funding forced the campus to be relocated to the west end. The university opted for a $100 million, 20-year lease on an existing medical building.

Ellard explains that one of the initial goals for the location of the downtown campus was to be easily accessible through transit, which made the location near the CTrain ideal. There were initially concerns by students that the area wasn’t safe enough.

“I understand it’s not the university’s choice who can be around here,” said continuing education student Michael Thoronton in an interview with the Gauntlet last year. “But Calgary’s a big boy city now and we have to deal with the fact that we’re going to have to deal with real city problems.”

Alderman John Mar saw the building of the downtown campus as a vital component to revitalizing the area.

“It’s almost an osmosis process to revitalize the area so that legitimate users of the area will return with the downtown campus.”

Ellard adds that with the addition of a new office tower across the street, the area is beginning to change.

“As you redevelop, it makes it more and more uncomfortable for those [negative] elements to be in the neighbourhood,” said Ellard.

In fact, the downtown campus has had no real security issues, as confirmed by the director of the downtown campus, Alison Gray. “We have 24/7 security with a zero tolerance policy. There is a large police presence in the area, and the police have a permanent parking spot behind the building that they’re always at.”

The Calgary police has provided staff with safety training to further ensure staff safety, teaching things like being aware of ones environment.

But while the safety concerns in the area have been satisfied, the downtown campus is still an ongoing project, according to both Ellard and Gray.

“A facility like this is really a multi-year build-up. It’s evolving, and we’ve had tenants moving in right up to this past June,” added Gray. The bookstore in the building has been opened, but not all of Haskayne School of Business’s programs have been brought to the building yet.

Returning students or mature students make up most of the population, according to Gray, but the building is also becoming an important location for connecting the U of C with the downtown community.

“It allows us not only to be part of the downtown community, but allows us to bring the U of C to the community,” said Ellard.

“There is so much potential here it’s amazing,” added Gray. “We thought we’d be just marketing the event centre on the ground floor, but there are so many other spaces we have available­.

“We’re able to market multiple opportunities for multiple events,” said Gray. “But right now it’s just about making people aware of what we have.”

Despite the building still undergoing continued construction, for instance the attached parkade is still unfinished, Gray said that the U of C has had a “phenomenal response from oil companies and non-profits in the area” who have begun to use the building.