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Building for the Future

In a sign of things to come across campus over the next few years, the Students' Union Building (SUB) is getting a major facelift this summer. If all goes well, by autumn students will be able to relax in a new lounge on the ground floor, receive financial advice at a new student finance centre, and enjoy a wide range of other services.

While the ground area covered by SUB will not change, the overhangs at the south and west sides will be enclosed, increasing the interior floor space by about 1,900 square metres. The ground level extension into the courtyard between SUB and the Van Vliet Centre will become a student relaxation centre.

A joint project between the Students' Union and the University, the expansion will draw about $3.5 million in funding from the Students' Union and about $1.7 million from the University.

The SUB expansion is only one of a number of changes planned for the campus. With enrolment expected to grow to 37,000 from 32,000 over the next decade, and with annual research funding expected to increase to $500 million from the current $255 million, the University anticipates a need for 40 percent more academic and research space.

With more building projects on the go than the University has seen in decades, the University's Board of Governors voted in June 2001, to split the portfolio of Finance and Administration in two, creating a new portfolio called Facilities and Operations.

"In creating a specific portfolio to house our facilities management and operation activities, the University recognizes the importance of these tasks and the need for dedicated strategic planning and leadership as our campus experiences an exciting period of growth," U of A President Rod Fraser said of the restructuring.

"We've been following a capital construction plan that was created in 1969," said associate vice-president (academic) Art Quinney, who is overseeing the new portfolio until a permanent vice-president can be found.

"That plan put principles in place that have proven themselves over time and served us well, but with our plans for continued growth we feel it's time to set down a new framework," he added.

"We'll be looking at a lot of issues, including density and use of green space, and transportation on and to campus."

Professional architectural and engineering planners from the IBI Group were contracted to guide the project to develop a long-range plan.

The Planning Legacy

At a 1912 meeting of the University's Board of Governors, just four years after the University of Alberta was founded, two Montreal architects presented a concept for future long-term development on the campus. Frank Darling, architect of the University of Toronto, and Percy Nobbs had drawn up the ground plans in consultation with Henry Marshall Tory, the first president of the University, and Alexander Rutherford, Alberta's first premier.

Their perspective view, presented a picturebook campus designed for Edwardian academic life. The initial plans, with revisions in 1915, incorporated the positions of University buildings that had been completed by that time — Athabasca, Assiniboia, and Pembina halls, the Arts Building, North and South labs, and the power plant — as well Alberta College South (later called St. Stephen's College).

The plans were ambitious. They called for a uniform building style —"an elastic free classic style in accordance with modified English traditions" — and were to accommodate 2,000 to 3,000 students, about 10 times the enrolment in 1912.

The First World War interrupted the University's growth, however, and by the 1918/19 session, student enrolment had increased to only 613. Of the new buildings shown on the Nobbs and Darling ground plan, only the Medical Sciences Building (now called the Dentistry/Pharmacy Centre) would be built, and that not until 1921.

The University grew more rapidly in the 1920s, and by the end of the decade, there were 1,560 students. The Ring Houses were built in 1922 as residences for some of the faculty, whose numbers had grown to 100.

Many of the new students were enrolled in the Edmonton Normal School (renamed Corbett Hall in 1963), which opened in 1929 as the centre for teacher training in Alberta. Its construction at what was then the southern limit of the campus was a major departure from the originally planned concentration of buildings north of 89th Avenue.

Enrolment continued to increase during the Great Depression, reaching more than 2,000 by the start of the Second World War, but there was no money for capital projects during that time. When the University was swamped by returning soldiers for the 1946/47 session, doubling enrolment over the previous year, the facilities were essentially unchanged from the 1920s. By 1947, enrolment had increased to 7,000, and old army huts had to serve as classrooms. In response, the University administration drew up a new development plan.

As in 1912, however, the planners' ideas fell victim to changing priorities. Although 12 of the 14 buildings proposed in 1946 were eventually built — eight of them in the 1950s — only Rutherford Library (south) and the original Students' Union Building (now University Hall) occupied their proposed locations.

The last of those 12 buildings, the Fine Arts Building, was not completed until 1973, but not from a lack of resources. An additional 20 large buildings that had not been imagined in 1946, such as HUB, Cameron Library, the Education Centre, the Law Centre, and a new, larger Students' Union Building, had been added to the campus in the meantime.

Construction projects tapered off during the 1980s and 1990s, and only 15 new buildings were completed during those two decades. With the turn of the century, however, construction sped up again, and four new buildings have already opened on the main campus: the Telus Centre, the Computing Science Centre, the Electrical and Computing Engineering Facility and the Engineering Teaching and Learning Centre.

A New Long-Range Plan

Figuring out the best way to accommodate all the new growth, to the benefit of both the University and its neighbours, has been a long, complicated process.

Two-and-a-half years ago, University administrators and the leaders of the communities that surround the campus met to discuss the best ways to handle change. In May 2001, to start a year-long consultation between the University and its neighbours, residents of the neighbouring communities were told of the University's long-range development plan, a document intended to guide the University's growth for the next 50 years.

Last autumn, three of the University's growth options were presented to campus and neighbouring communities. One of the options caused considerable controversy in the North Garneau area on the east side of campus. That neighbourhood had previously voiced objections during the University's eastward expansion in the 1960s, including a successful campaign to save Rutherford House from demolition.

Jim Mitchell, who was acting vice-president (facilities and operations) until February, said last autumn that the University has no intention of forcing its ideas onto its neighbours. "This is consultation," Mitchell said. "We are saying, ‘This is what we are thinking of doing. What are your thoughts?' The University has laid all its cards on the table."

Common themes have emerged through the consultation process: community residents seem most concerned with traffic congestion, parking availability, and the fate of existing green space in the face of increasing student enrolment.

"The University has some really tough decisions ahead of it," said Mitchell. "It's a complex process, but it's also a transparent process. I've certainly heard what people have said, and we'll continue to listen."

Major Projects Looming

At the same time that the University is planning its long-term growth, it also has to address its immediate needs for new facilities. About $450 million in construction is planned for the next four years.

Perhaps most urgent is a "crying need" for student accommodation, Quinney told folio, the University's internal newspaper, in April. He said the University is moving quickly to build a new undergraduate residence linked to the Lister Complex. It will accommodate about 400 students in one-bedroom units and will open, if all goes well, for the start of the 2003/04 year. Another residence of about the same size is planned for international students.

Eight other major building projects are already in the planning stages:

Health Research Innovation Facility — A research facility for the health sciences focusing on innovation and the concept of "bench to bedside research," the plan calls for 52,000 square metres of space, comprising two building additions on either side of the Heritage Medical Research Centre and adjacent to the Medical Sciences Building. The new facility will bring together a variety of research units, including diabetes and transplant research, clinical and community nutrition, biomolecular design and proteomics, and several other areas. It will house the research facilities of the groundbreaking islet-cell transplantation team (which will be temporarily housed in College Plaza).

Natural Resources Engineering Facility — To be located immediately south of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Research Facility and the Engineering Teaching and Learning Centre, this building will be the final component in the engineering faculty's research sector. Covering about 34,000 square metres, it will consolidate the Department of Civil Engineering into one location from about 10 others on campus.

Interdisciplinary Science Building — This 40,000-square-metre facility will house the expanded research needs of the Faculty of Science. It will accommodate five interdisciplinary research groups in the science sector of campus: resource geosciences, integrated landscape management, chemical biology and proteomics, nanostructures and new materials, and geophysical fluid dynamics.

National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT) — Established by the National Research Council of Canada, in partnership with the University and the province, this institute will house research expected to be the next major field of human endeavour, involving activities in engineering, medicine, biology, physics, chemistry, computing science, and other areas. While planning has just begun, the building is likely to be about 17,000 square metres and house a minimum of $40 million in specialized equipment. NINT will be temporarily housed in the new Electrical and Computer Engineering Research Facility.

Health Sciences Learning Centre — Proposed as a joint venture between the University and the Capital Health Authority, the centre will be a mixed-use facility concentrating on two areas: outpatient ambulatory clinics, which will cover most specialties in medicine, surgery, family medicine, and pediatrics, and health sciences instruction and training. It is expected to cover 140,000 to 150,000 square metres on the current site of the Research Transition Facility along 114th Street west of the Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre.

Saville Centre — This facility will consolidate three physical education and recreation activity centres: curling, tennis, and gymnastics. It will be located at the existing Balmoral Curling Club, with an addition on the east side of the building. Tennis will move from Michener Park, and gymnastics will move from the Research Transition Facility on the north campus. Construction should begin this summer.

Heart and Stroke Research Centre — Planned as a world-class research centre to investigate the prevention and cure of cardiovascular disease, this centre will be a 1,000-square-metre human imaging and vascular biology research facility. It will be located in the basement of the recently completed emergency wing of the Walter C. Mackenzie Health Sciences Centre.

Published Spring/Summer 2002.

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