Shaping the future

Town Hall meeting to discuss development of complex Jan. 18

The University of Lethbridge campus has undergone significant change over recent years with the addition of a number of prominent buildings – but the biggest project is yet to come.

A proposed 300,000 square foot complex that will transform the Faculty of Arts & Science in particular and the University as a whole is just now in the planning stages and one of the U of L's newest employees, Chris Eagan, is at the forefront.

The University's new executive director of Facilities looks at the $255 million project as an opportunity for the University to take a major step forward, one that will further define the U of L as a leading comprehensive research institution.

Chris Eagan
Chris Eagan, the University's new executive director of Facilities, will play a key role in the development of a complex that could cost more than $255 million and add 300,000 square feet of building space to campus.

"We're at that natural point where the space that was built in 1969 is ready for renovation," says Eagan. "We've changed as a University and the things we're doing now, the old space doesn't fit us well. It is now constraining us fairly significantly and most seriously in the science labs, where safety is a major factor."

Eagan comes to the University from Lethbridge College, where he spent the last three years. Prior to that, the Nova Scotia-born but Saskatchewan-raised engineer worked six years as the director of planning, design, and construction for the University of Regina.

He sees many similarities between the U of R and the U of L and brings to Lethbridge experience with the construction of Regina's Research and Innovation Centre (RIC).

"I built one of these facilities at the University of Regina that's very comparable in terms of scope to what we're planning," he says. "So, to some degree I've taken this journey before but it's always a learning experience. It's a great feeling to have an opportunity to be generally familiar with the process."

To put the U of L project into context, 300,000 square feet is equivalent to adding two-thirds the size of University Hall to campus. And that's just the start.

"The new construction is just one part of the project," says Eagan. "Part two, or the second domino, is the renovation of the vacated space in UHall and the repopulation of that space. The third domino is the infrastructure required, such as roads, heating plant and all that's needed to keep the campus functioning."

Eagan loves the complexity of a major development and revels in the responsibility his team has in setting the direction of a project.

"Winston Churchill used to say that for a short time we shape buildings and for a long time, they shape us," says Eagan.

"Everybody has lived in a home or office environment that doesn't really work for them. Bad environments make people work harder, not smarter."

A typical project of this magnitude, Eagan says, lasts 15 years. To get to this point there's been a lot of essential work already done, laying the foundation for where the project is at today, in its first phase of planning. This initiation phase is largely strategic planning work defining what the project needs to do for the institution.

"It's not super prescriptive at this point and is designed to make sure the project works in terms of schedule, budget and scope," says Eagan, who expects to move onto phase two, predesign feasibility and planning, by February.

The final piece of the puzzle is implementation, design, tender and construction.

"We want to make sure that in the first two phases that our needs are well understood, well discussed and well defined because the consultants do an excellent job of translating our needs into the physical spaces and organizing those spaces, that's what architects do well," he says. "They love it when we show up with binders of needs and know what we want, because then they don't have to guess."

He stresses that the consultation phase will be comprehensive, all in an attempt to construct a complex that will satisfy the needs of the University for years to come.

"Whatever we don't do we own and fight with for the next 40 years, so that drives us to get it right," he says.


· In September 2011, the Alberta government pledged $2.3 million in planning funds for a new complex on the U of L campus

· A Town Hall meeting to discuss the progress to date on the initiation phase of the new complex will be held Wednesday, Jan. 18 from 2 to 4 p.m. in C674

· A best-case scenario timeline for the project includes starting construction in March 2013 and moving people into the new space by spring 2016

· Eagan, who holds a bachelor of engineering (civil) degree from Dalhousie University, is married and a father of four children

This story first appeared in the January edition of the Legend. For a look at the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.