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SAITSA plans for new student headquarters

Just because a place is big, doesn't mean it can't feel like home - and it's not difficult to draw the analogy between SAIT's campus and a house. There are places where people cook, eat, sleep, build things, fix things and take time to think.

Over the last century, SAIT's various "homes" have seen their fair share of renovation and expansion. Now, plans are underway for another. After six years of saving, students voted in a November 2015 referendum to invest in a new campus living room.

A home for students

"SAIT does a really good job on the academic side, but it's the community and student life space that isn't quite there," says Brigitte Matheson (BA '15), SAITSA president.

"This new building is about providing a student-centric space. It sounds cliché, but I hope that it feels like home. A place where all students feel comfortable."

Brigitte Matheson (BA '15), SAITSA PresidentWhile the consultation process is just beginning, there will likely be places for studying, areas that can accommodate the growing number of clubs on campus, more retail space - and possibly even a nap room.

"It's about bettering the overall student experience - not just the classroom, studying or academic experience, but what goes into producing well-rounded, whole students," says Matheson.

Doing that means looking beyond academics. "SAIT students have jam-packed days and tend to stay in the building where their classes are, so there is a community feel, but it's usually restricted to specific programs or schools."

That's something Matheson hopes will change because she has seen first-hand the value of branching out.

"I'm in marketing, but I joined the Engineering Club and that made my entire post-secondary experience so much better. Talking to and interacting with people who think differently than you do changes your perspective."

The goal is clear: create a student-centric space that brings people together and enhances life outside the classroom. What's less clear is what that space will look like. So, SAITSA is hosting focus groups to figure out exactly what students would like to see.

The campus front door

Design-wise, plans are still at a very conceptual level and waiting to be influenced by student input, but some of the major potential for the new four-storey building involves its location.

Watch SAITSA's Referendum Announcement"Attached to the southeast corner of Campus Centre, the new building will essentially be a gateway to the campus and transition zone from campus life to the larger community - a bit like the campus front door," says David Wittman, design manager with Gibbs Gage Architects. "We're looking at creating a strong sense of arrival when you step out of the LRT station and a number of different innovative spaces - ones that are a little less traditional and more relaxed."

Wittman adds that the new building's southern exposure and the great view of downtown will definitely play a part in the final design.

"A new home for the Gateway Restaurant and Bar could be on the upper floor, capitalizing on the view, and other spaces could include everything from little meeting booths to tech labs and even a large open amphitheatre where people can have casual interactions, formalize their work or just hang out in the space."

Unlike reality TV renovation shows, however, this change won't take place overnight. Much needs to happen before SAITSA's new headquarters opens its doors, including turning a concept into a real plan with the recently selected project management company, working with architects to develop the design and moving through the various stages of construction. 

"We're excited about opening in fall 2018," says Matheson. "It would be fantastic if students who are in a four-year program and voted in the referendum get to see the end product and reap the benefits."

Win-win-win

Students aren't the only ones benefiting from SAITSA's new building, however. When SAITSA moves out of Campus Centre, it will create new options in a space slated for a refresh of its own.

Maureen MacDonald, Associate VP, Communications and Marketing"This is a win-win-win for students, SAIT, our alumni and the community," says Maureen MacDonald, SAIT's Associate Vice President of Communications and Marketing.

"It gives us a chance to go back to the drawing board when it comes to renovating Campus Centre. We know people want an expanded fitness facility and we thought we might need to use the pool for that type of space, but now that SAITSA no longer needs their Campus Centre space, our planning team can look at keeping the pool and still making the changes our constituents are asking for."

Matheson and MacDonald agree that the combined updates to Campus Centre and a new SAITSA headquarters have the potential to truly change life outside the classroom.

"I think it will transform the campus in a way," says Matheson. "This building will be the legacy of SAIT's 2015/16 students - it wouldn't have happened without them. They're leaving their mark in a way that will benefit students for many years to come."

Written by Michelle Woodard
Aryn Toombs Photos