In lieu of the typical mid-life investment in sleek cars and leather pants, the University of Calgary is celebrating its 40th birthday by throwing a $130,000 birthday party and unveiling the $3 million Take Your Place initiative.
Take Your Place is improving or creating 40 student spaces around campus in hopes of increasing their use and functionality. Two spaces have been revealed so far, including high-traffic corridors in Social Sciences and Math Sciences, with plans to open the remaining spaces in coming months.
The bright green walls in Science B are proof the work on the rest of the project is well underway. According to Sheila O'Brien, special advisor to the president on student affairs, all 38 of the remaining spaces have been selected, designed and costed. Twenty-two of these locations are currently under construction and the university will open about one space a week in the fall, unveiling most of them before the end of December.
"Sixteen of the renovations are in residence, and the rest are spread throughout campus--set to be revealed on the 30th of October," said O'Brien.
Although the project involved much research and collaboration between faculty and students, critics--including university support staff--questioned the validity of Take Your Place at an institution with more pressing needs like infrastructure and maintenance. As a result, administration has been very careful in monitoring the actual impact of Take Your Place on students and the community, said O'Brien.
"Utilization of the Social Sciences hallway is up about eight-fold," said O'Brien. "We are also getting great feedback from the community. Thirty-seven of the spaces are paid for already. This says that they are supported."
However, some Alberta Union of Provincial Employee members are frustrated with how the university is prioritizing funding allocation.
"Yes, we should be proud of our 40 year achievements, but also remember that the buildings we celebrate in are also 40 years old and if we are to continue forward they need maintenance," said AUPE Local 52 member and former U of C mechanical department supervisor Rick Festa. "There is need for a balance of both."
Festa pointed to problems in the pipes in Science B, including traces of asbestos and mold, and many valves that don't work. Mechanical rooms are in similar disrepair, suffering from internal damage that is easy to forget about until it breaks down--on the other side of these walls are labs that rely on these rooms for operation, said Festa.
"No one is concerned with what is behind the walls until it affects them personally," he said. "A lot of the forced repairs or upgrades presently being done are only cosmetic. They only address what is visible to the eye."
O'Brien stressed the Take Your Place project is separate from general maintenance.
"You can't go into the community and ask them to donate to repairs," she said. "It's the university's responsibility to maintain and repair the university. This project goes above and beyond that. We're going into the community, to enhance student life."
Students' Union president Emily Wyatt had similar sentiments.
"The great thing about Take Your Place is that it has great donor recognition--sponsors get to be engaged with student life and they get a plaque to recognize their contribution."
"It's hard to get donors for infrastructure," she added.