Billboards like this one have announced the coming of the ISEEE institute.
the Gauntlet

U of C takes a second look at projects

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Inflationary pressures have changed the scope of some of the University of Calgary's capital expansion plans. However, university administration asserted that all of its projects are moving forward and will be completed by their intended deadlines.

The U of C has brought on a retired professional engineer, Barry Lester, to advise administration on their capital projects. Contrary to what was reported in a Dec. Calgary Herald article, Lester was not brought on to review the capital expansion. U of C provost Dr. Alan Harrison explained Lester's role is more of a bridge to a new vice-president's position to be filled by the spring. The U of C's capital expansion fell under the scope of the VP finance's portfolio, but with so many projects, administration felt it would be best to split the portfolio into two, Harrison noted.

In the meantime, Lester will be providing his expert advice to the U of C's $1.5 billion expansion plan as it moves forward.

Part of the capital expansion plan, the ISEEE building, received $260 million in a summer announcement by the provincial government. But, contrary to prior government grants to the U of C's capital projects, including the $163 million for the Taylor Family Digital Library to be completed by Sep. 2010, the $260 million given to the Energy, Environment and Experiential learning building, as the ISEEE building is now known, will not have any government inflationary adjustments. The money will also be given in installments over five years, increasing the amount of inflationary erosion, Harrison explained.

The U of C has reduced the scale of the ISEEE project, which was originally two buildings, the ISEEE building and an experiential learning centre. Both will now be contained in the EEE building on a reduced scale.

Harrison noted that the lack of inflation coverage in the EEE grant had not curbed any of the U of C's ambition with future capital projects. But, he was unsure of whether or not this reflected a change in government policy and is concerned that with future projects, the government would not be covering inflationary costs.

At the U of C's post-secondary neighbour SAIT, the government is currently considering a $281 million request filed in 2006 for the 4,000 student Trades and Technology Complex. When the project was originally announced back in 2005, the TTC was budgeted at $107 million. However, since then, the estimated costs have increased to $400 million, according to SAIT VP external relations Guy Mallabone.

SAIT has reportedly adjusted the size of the TTC building from 1.1 million square feet to around half that, while keeping the number of student spaces intact, to keep the costs closer to their initial government funding request.

Mallabone didn't attribute the government stance of not covering the EEE building's inflation costs to a policy change, however, and said that it was SAIT's internal planning team who decided it was best to scale back the TTC project. No agreement between SAIT and the government has been made as to who will cover the inflationary costs of the $281 million for the TTC project.

Assistant communications director for the Alberta government's Advanced Energy and Technology Department Donna McColl said that projects were reviewed on an individual basis with Alberta's post-secondary education system with the whole in mind and not on an institution-by-institution basis.

"I can't speak to a policy [about covering inflation] that's going to stand forever," said McColl. "I can tell you that we have a number of capital requests on the table and they're all reviewed in the scope of 'campus Alberta' and what's best for students, taxpayers and society at large."

The U of C has adjusted the EEE project, but has placed a priority on student spaces with the EEE building. Harrison noted that while it was difficult to say categorically where adjustments had been made, the number of student spaces would remain intact.

"We still believe we can build a significant building that will provide a wonderful education experience for the 1,000 students [the government] originally funded us for," said Harrison.