Alberta's Premier and Calgary's Mayor helped to officially open the new $160-million south campus at Bow Valley College this spring. Not long after that, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations arrived to unveil the facility's airy aboriginal centre.
That's also when it started to rain. Historic flooding walloped southern Alberta on June 21, including the college which has a prominent footprint in the east end of Calgary's downtown.
Damage estimates now ring in at about $10-million, down from earlier projections of $15-million, but according to Bow Valley's president and chief executive officer Sharon Carry, the destruction could have been worse.
"If we hadn't flood-proofed these buildings, it would have been disastrous," she said.
During four years of construction, the main floor of the new seven-storey, 279,000-square-foot south campus was raised about 61 centimetres off the flood plain, while the dated north campus across the street was given a similar above-ground boost. It's part of an ambitious $255-million renovation and expansion program that continues today at one of the country's largest comprehensive community college, which caters to 14,000 students by granting diplomas and certificates in everything from fashion design to nursing to business management.
Ms. Carry said the college is working with insurers to sort out what's covered and by whom. Sewage backup at the underground levels caused the damage, not overland flooding, affecting storage, parking and shipping-receiving areas of the buildings.The school is also keeping the province, which provided $141.5-million in construction funds, up to date, since it is also providing disaster relief.
Retrofitting from the flood could take until the end of this year, but the school was operational within a few weeks. Consider it a small setback for a school that is helping to bring new life to the city's downtown and meeting Alberta's demand for workers by offering hands-on skills, not just academic degrees. Urban planners are smitten.
"I think the city is going through an exciting transition," said Beverly Sandalack, a professor in the faculty of environmental design at the University of Calgary.
Prof. Sandalack's university recently opened a campus at the west end of downtown, part of what she considered a postsecondary march to the heart of the financial capital where they are closer to students who need more than 9-to-5 educational opportunities. "Just a decision to locate downtown is a huge vote of confidence of the importance of the downtown core," she said.
But Bow Valley's south campus didn't easily end up here. Despite its north campus located across the street, school officials scouted 22 locations before settling on the site of the old provincial courthouse along the light rail transit CTrain commuter line. It's also now well positioned as a gateway to the East Village, a much-anticipated property development spearheaded by Calgary Municipal Land Corp.
Clare Nolan, a CMLC spokeswoman, said the college is a "significant component" of the East Village vision to create a "complete community" with residential, recreational and retail space.
But before demolition could begin to make way for the south campus, construction of the massive new courts complex had to begin. Meanwhile, other partners came on board with Bow Valley. The college, which has roots in the city back to 1965, is now home to satellite campuses for other postsecondary institutions in Alberta – Athabasca University, Olds College and the University of Lethbridge.
Lorne Williams, an assistant dean with the University of Lethbridge, said the unique arrangement allows students to move seamlessly from their downtown jobs to the classroom and among the various schools, while they also share space.
"It saves the taxpayers all kinds of dollars," he said. "There's no unused capacity. The various institutions use the same infrastructure."
And, this so-called educational hub could further expand.
"I was approached by another postsecondary institution just today about space," Ms. Carry said in a recent interview.
Classes run year-round, and even in the dog days of summer, the college bustles with students and construction hasn't stopped.
Martin Jones, a Calgary-based partner with GEC Architecture who was the project's design director, said the concept focused on space on either side of the street, not just a standalone building. The campuses are linked by a pair of elevated, covered walkways, known as Plus-15s and Plus-30s, so-named because of the number of feet they have been built above ground.
"It's the redevelopment of a whole block to form an overall urban campus," Mr. Jones explained.
The design team also wanted to create a piece of contemporary, modernist architecture.
"It was important to us that it didn't look like an office building or too institutional," he added. The exterior features terra cotta tiles and on the glass throughout there are engaging recurring patterns, which aim to recognize diversity among the study body, which hails from 117 countries and represents at least 97 languages.
Along with 50 new classrooms, underground parking, an outdoor elevated terrace, market-style cafeteria and rooftop gardens, the facility is a certified LEED Silver sustainable project. Its environmental qualities include indoor lights equipped with sensors that detect movement, available ambient light and whether anyone is in the room.
The interior showcases local artists and others, with pieces either owned by the college or on loan. They include interesting portraits using gumballs of Premier Alison Redford and Mayor Naheed Nenshi and a tall chromatic light column that is an unusual remnant of the old courthouse.
By 2020, if not sooner, 20,000 students are expected to be enrolled at Bow Valley either in person or online.
Asked whether more building expansion is in the works to cover the growing demand for the students who will graduate from Bow Valley, Ms. Carry said, "We might be outgrowing this faster than we planned."
By the numbers
Bow Valley College South Campus building features:
– About 278,848 square feet of functional space
– Seven storeys
– 120 indoor and 48 outdoor bicycle parking spots
– 208-seat cafeteria
– 50 new classrooms providing more than 2,200 student seats
Source: Bow Valley College