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Samantha Lucy

We need to spread the wealth with infrastructure funding

The government gravy train keeps on rolling and the University of Calgary isn’t getting off anytime soon.

After announcing a $75-million clean energy research grant on Tuesday, the U of C announced $160 million in infrastructure funding on Friday, with $78 million coming from the federal government.

That’s a big chunk of change. It will fund infrastructure projects in eight areas, including an expansion to the High Density Library, upgrades to research field stations in Kananaskis and expansions to the Veterinary Medicine Clinical Skills building.

Of the projects actually on the main campus, most overdue is the Science A redevelopment funding.

Science A is shithole. Along with the Administration building, it’s one of the oldest buildings on the U of C campus, and it shows. Some redevelopment took place a few years ago, but many things still haven’t improved. The basement resembles the set of a low-budget horror film, and a student club I was part of last year had to evacuate our closet-like office so it could be checked for asbestos.

Science A is the poster child for buildings on campus that need help, so investment is long overdue. But it would be nice to see some of that money make its way to other buildings that need it most.

A combination of choices by university administration, donors and the government help decide what projects get these kinds of grants. The federal government invested in these most recent projects because they will “enhance research and innovation in many ways.”

The U of C is identified as a leader in clean energy so a lot of money goes towards clean energy projects. That’s where the EEEL building came from, and it’s largely where the motivation for the $150-million engineering complex upgrades — which open to the public this week — came from.

Don’t get me wrong, the Engineering building needed help. Prior to the renovations it was a never-ending labyrinth of terror. But there are other buildings that need it too.

Craigie Hall is plagued with asbestos and the University Theatre is well below industry standard. Anyone who’s ever rode in the Social Sciences elevators will tell you they’d rather not again. And while upgrades to the Administration building back in 2013 resulted in glamourous $150,000 staircases and fancy boardrooms, the parts of the building that don’t hold upper-level administration — you know, the parts students actually use — are fixed up with band-aid solutions like new paint on the walls.

Most strikingly, the MacKimmie Tower’s upper levels have been closed off since 2013. While the university received $17.2 million from the provincial government in May to formulate a redevelopment plan, administration estimates full renovations will cost around $100 million, which is something the U of C just doesn’t have right now. So MacKimmie remains in limbo.

One of the eight funded projects is the vague “Research and Innovation Infrastructure Renewal” which claims to pump funding into “multidisciplinary innovation and inquiry across several faculties and core research spaces.” But that isn’t specific enough to dictate the large-scale investment many spaces need. And spaces like the MacKimmie Tower and Craigie Hall don’t need renovation for research — they need it for public safety.

It’s great to see our university receive such generous funding and it’s exciting to see what research and innovation we’ll accomplish with it. The government invested in projects like the Engineering complex because the U of C has the potential to blaze new trails in clean energy, research and innovation. This should be applauded.

But as all of these fancy new glass-walled buildings are erected around campus, they put into stark contrast the crumbling infrastructure we already have. The MacKimmie Tower and Craigie Hall may not be the flashiest projects on campus, but they desperately need a boost. Hopefully, that boost comes sooner rather than later.

Melanie Woods, Gauntlet Editorial Board

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