Alberta's government is putting $142.5-million into renovating and expanding the University of Calgary's engineering complex, which will eventually create space to admit 400 more students to the school.
Premier Alison Redford announced the funding Wednesday morning at the university. The revitalized complex will feature new research and teaching labs, study and support spaces and two new 240-seat theatres within 18,300 square metres of new space.
The one-time provincial funding will cover most of the $158.3-million total price tag for expanding the Schulich School of Engineering, while the remainder has been raised from private and corporate sources. Parts of the existing complex date back to the mid-1960s, and "it's showing its age a bit," said Elizabeth Cannon, president of the university. But it is also a response to current and future demand for engineers in the province, and across Canada, she said.
"If you talk to the industry in Calgary, they are really adamant that there's a strong need right now, both with the growth in oil sands projects in the province, and also with retirees," Dr. Cannon said.
The infusion of provincial cash comes at a time when the government has cut operating funding to schools by 7 per cent, and universities across the province have resorted to measures such as layoffs, buyouts and suspending enrolments to certain programs in order to balance their budgets. But Thomas Lukaszuk, the province's Deputy Premier and Minister of Advanced Education, said the province treats operating and infrastructure dollars separately.
"Just like in our household, these are two separate decision processes that you have to make," he said. "... We had a particularly difficult year on the operating side in this province this year, but we're not losing our sight of building Alberta into the future."
The revamped building is scheduled to open in 2016 as part of the university's Eyes High strategy, which also includes a $240-million plan to rebuild and expand the school's student residences, adding 1,100 new beds by 2026.
"Really, it's about creating new teaching and learning spaces and research labs to be able to position us for growth, Dr. Cannon said. "We have had similar types on investment in our past. But these don't come along that often, and we're very grateful when they do."