Tuesday, July 20, 2004

He must have a vault that's grand by any standards, floor to lid

Recent years have seen rapid growth in redeveloping the area of downtown Ottawa between the Rideau Centre and University of Ottawa, a great deal of which can be credited to improvements of nearby road and public transit infrastructure. A few years ago, a luxury high-rise condo tower sitting on the slim lot there between high-volume bus lanes and a busy parkway would have been unthinkable; now, as evident, it's there. (And went up surprisingly quickly, too. It's very close to the university residence complex; while living there last year, it certainly seemed to me that they started very, very loud work every day, in all weather and seasons, by 7 or 8 in the morning.) The Rideau Centre, a high-traffic hub for pedestrians and transit users since its building in 1982, only received a full bus station a couple years ago. Lots in the no-man's-land between Rideau and Laurier east of Nicholas formed by the Rideau Centre's construction are just now being seriously redeveloped. So, this is capital investment by U of O whose time has come, admittedly. The parking lot in question is the first sign of the university seen, arriving via the Mackenzie King Bridge. It wasn't out of place when the entire area was just one low-density semi-industrial cloverleaf connecting the various promenades, highways and transit lanes, but now it's downright ugly. But where will the money eventually come from? The $55.3-million project will receive $15.5 million in government grants. The remainder will be financed by the university through a $150-million credit line. Which will have to be repaid when, exactly? How? I smell higher student fees ahead, for little perceptible added value from the student point of view. On the other hand, it probably will cut operating costs once the investment is made. Half of the Arts faculties currently operate out of repurposed houses along what have become, through institutional growth, campus side streets. (Some professors in the History department seem to find working in a heritage building appealing. I can't imagine many in other departments do.) It's all very quaint, I guess, but must be a terrible headache for infrastructure planning and maintenance. And I certainly would appreciate not having to hike up the improbably cramped spiral staircase and corridors to reach the undergrad professors'-and-TAs-offices floor, though it's not as if I need to do that very often. I suppose this new facility is a good thing, then - but I'm still somewhat suspicious of the costs involved.

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