Upgrading the heart of campus

By Erick Maleko

On October 11, the University of Calgary unveiled its proposed master plan to overhaul MacEwan Student Centre. The plan is still in the consultation process, however, it proposes MSC become a state-of-the-art building with added space, flow and improved services for students.

A town hall meeting was held on October 11 to collect students’ ideas and opinions for the estimated $150 million renovation. The upgraded building will have an additional 10,500 square metres and include a new $25 million underground loading facility. No date has been set for the beginning of construction.

MSC was originally built in 1967 and currently measures 40,000 square meters. There have been two construction phases in 1987 and in 2002.

A performance review of the building in 2010 determined that the building needed upgrades to its mechanical and operational systems. A total revamping of the building was then considered

Preliminary dealings with GEC Architecture, the architecture firm that drew up the plan, began in September 2011. The draft plan took a year to materialize.

According to GEC architect and planner Martin Jones, the draft plan conceptualizes how MSC can be improved. He said flow and access to other parts of campus are the main issues with the building. 

“It’s a very deep building, and its connections visually and physically to the outside are challenged,” said Jones. “We think the student centre should have much stronger connections with daylight, views and physical access to the campus.”

The draft plan addresses students’ concerns about lack of space by including increased quiet study areas, seating and increased access to other parts of the building. The underground loading area currently opens up to the Taylor Family Digital Library quad, the space between MSC and the TFDL, causing congestion issues. The plan aims to solve this by moving the loading area to the other side of the building.

The U of C has been collaborating with both the Students’ Union and the Graduate Students’ 
Association to begin the consultation process. 

According to SU president 
Hardave Birk, the student voice is the most important aspect of the draft plan. Over 3,000 students are anticipated to be consulted.

“The whole purpose of consulting with the students is to determine whether they want the renovation or not and, if they do, how much they would be comfortable having the school spend. The university’s long-term vision draft plan has been put forth and students can now contribute their inputs,” said Birk. “MacHall is the heart of the campus — it’s the students’ centre. It’s a place to socialize, get involved and where the SU generates a lot of the revenue that funds student life activities. I’d say it’s the most visited building on campus.”

The university has not yet made it clear how the construction will be funded. Birk said that this adds to the importance of gauging student opinion about possible student fees for the project.

“There’s no point in doing any renovations if students at the 
U of C don’t want them. I want to hear from students,” said Birk. “What are the things you like about the building? What are things you dislike? What do you think we need in the building? What do you want to see changed? Then we can put a final plan together that works for students and works for the campus.”

Fifth-year U of C business and psychology student Naomi Cheng attended the town hall meeting. She was skeptical about the plan at first, but said that MSC needs some upgrades.

“The presentation was really vague because it’s still in the beginning stages, so it’s hard to form an opinion either way on whether it’s going to be good or bad,” said Cheng.

She said a high cost might be necessary for the plan to be 

“Obviously, an ideal situation would be no cost for the students, and maybe somebody else could shoulder that burden,” she said. “More students need to get involved with this whole thing. You can’t complain if you don’t participate in this process.”

U of C facilities management and development vice-president Bob Ellard helped draft the plan and was behind other construction projects on campus, including the TFDL and the Energy Environment Experiental Learning building. He said the overhaul of MSC will be beneficial for future U of C students.

“Because [MSC was] assembled in different phases over the years, there never was a master plan. But now we get a chance to design a building based out of what we’ve observed and identified as flaws over the past 47 years,” said Ellard. “The master plan is not here for the people who are here today, it’s looking far enough into the future so your children and your grandchildren have a building that is up-to-date and functions with what is needed.”

The MacHall redevelopment compass, a consultation and survey exercise with elements from the draft plan, will occur every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 6 p.m. in the north courtyard of MSC. According to Birk, an online survey will be available in November and other town hall meetings will occur later this year.