May 12 marked the grand opening of the new Bow Valley College (BVC) expansion in Calgary; originally scheduled for last month, it was delayed for the funeral of Ralph Klein, the premier who first approved funding for the new $300 million environmentally sustainable multi-campus building in conjunction with the City of Calgary.
For those who don’t live in Calgary, a little background is in order. BVC is an older community college long known for providing adult upgrading and educational services for immigrants and ESL learners, but in the last two decades its offerings have expanded to include a range of post-secondary certificates, diplomas, and post-graduate certifications. Located in the core of Calgary’s downtown, it is both a landmark and a hub of student activity in the city centre.
Along the way, BVC’s visionary president, Sharon Carry, got the idea to reach out to a few other schools that had a presence in Calgary’s downtown and less than ideal spaces for their students. Athabasca University, Olds College, and University of Lethbridge were invited to relocate to the new building, creating a unique blended student space where there are few institutional boundaries and services are equally available to students of all resident schools.
Any Calgarian who has lined up along the wall in the cramped exam waiting room knows how desperately a new space was needed. While AU Edmonton spans several floors of a large building, the Calgary offices were contained on a single, outdated floor of a tiny building in a scary area of downtown, where there is scant parking and few places to eat or shop. Why Calgary has the smallest space has always been a mystery; the city has by far the most AU students of any city, and not by a small margin. There are approximately 4,250 undergrad students in Calgary to 2,631 in Edmonton (roughly 15 per cent of the entire AU student population).
AU’s campuses have been notable for the lack of student services: you won’t find a copy centre, health services, or space for students to mingle or eat in any of them (AUSU used to offer a vending machine in Edmonton, but we had to remove it as they ran out of room). The reception area had a couple of comfy couches, but sitting a few feet from the front desk and beside the glass wall of staff offices was not conducive to socializing with fellow students.
The new BVC building offers a kind of student experience that Calgary-based students of AU, U Leth, and Olds College could hardly have hoped for. It is a gorgeous space, full of light and air, windows and art, with generous space for studying, socializing, and soaking up the student experience. The building includes a huge cafeteria offering fresh hot and cold meals, and a bookstore with a nice selection of merchandise and course books. Right now the course materials are specific to BVC courses, but anyone can shop there. With great parking and an LRT stop outside the front door, it could not be more accessible. And It’s right next to city hall and the arts district, which is full of parks and walking spaces, and in the summer alive with flowers and fountains.
A video introduction to the new space can be found here.
Some improvements Calgary AU students will really appreciate:
? Full-sized lockers that hold more than just a purse (the old ones couldn’t hold a bulky jacket and were too small for the larger laptops)
? Big comfy seating areas with armchairs and tables, a place where you can actually sit and talk to other students
? Vending machines galore and a really great cafeteria with really fresh cold offerings (sandwiches, sushi, salads, fruit, dairy) and plenty of hot options (pizza by the slice, soups, burgers, etc).
? Huge study tables in bright, well-lit areas
? Bathrooms with multiple stalls (no more waiting in line with the key for the single stall while shifting uncomfortably after a three-hour exam; Calgary students know what I’m talking about)
Notable features of the new building that all students can access:
? Leed silver certification for conservation of water, energy, etc.
? Free wireless everywhere
? Open seven days a week for extended hours
? Underground parking
? Tons of bike parking
? A two-storey atrium with rooftop garden (not yet planted)
? Tons of art, including student contributions
? Health services
? Aboriginal Centre and multi-faith room
? +15/30 to the north campus
? Copy and print centre