Some have argued Canterbury University should move back to the central city. Vice-Chancellor ROD CARR says it should stay where it is - with a couple of provisos.
More than 60 years ago a decision was made to relocate the University of Canterbury from its town site to a new greenfield site at Ilam, on the outskirts of Christchurch city.
That decision was taken for a number of reasons, not least of which was the fact the university had outgrown its land and buildings and post-war projections of growth and prosperity forecast not only increasing demand but an increasing willingness and ability to pay for higher education.
It took over 20 years to complete the relocation, which was fully implemented over 35 years ago.
Today, the 87-hectare university campus services over 20,000 staff and students. More than 70 per cent of the university's students live within 2.5km of the campus. Eight thousand rooms are clustered in 240 separate structural spaces with a depreciated book value of over $525 million and a replacement cost in the billions of dollars. Half a century of plantings has created a natural environment that is a unique and defining characteristic of the university.
It was only last year that the proposition of relocating even a small part of the university - the School of Music - to be closer to the passing audiences and heritage buildings of the old university site in the central city lead some to argue that any splitting of the campus would detract from the integrated campus and learning community at Ilam.
Since then, two earthquakes and numerous aftershocks have changed parts of our city for ever. The question has been raised by some as to whether the university should up sticks and head east.
Why? Because there is space to the east and some have a mission and mandate to infuse the struggling area within the four avenues with vitality. Relocating the university is not the answer. Here is why:
Firstly, the university has not run out of space where it is. The University of Canterbury has more land and built infrastructure per student than the average New Zealand university. Our facilities are not as fully utilised as they should be. We can accommodate any projected increase in domestic and international student numbers on land we own or control.
Secondly, the university buildings did not fall down or even suffer significant structural damage in the earthquakes. Yes, there is remediation work to be undertaken over coming years, but more than 220 of our 240 separate structural spaces will have been certified for general occupation by the end of this month, less than four months after the earthquake in February. Remediation will cost tens of millions of dollars, but this reflects as much the size and scale of the university as the extent of the damage.
Thirdly, our capital asset management plan involved a detailed assessment of the state of our buildings pre-earthquakes and assessed the vast majority of the space to be of above average quality.
We should not forget that buildings such as Commerce and Law were built in the 1990s and the $10 million NZi3 building, $32m biological sciences building and multimillion-dollar primary data centre are all less than three years old.
Yes, there are some older spaces ready for refurbishment in Science and Engineering, but this will represent a fraction of the cost of rebuilding substantial buildings.
Fourthly, it makes no economic sense to abandon special-purpose infrastructure that is not damaged at a time when the economic demands to replace damaged infrastructure are so great.
The university needs to ensure its remediation efforts are supported by insurance proceeds and central government, but funds will go much further when used to remediate rather than replace infrastructure.
In addition, shifting the economic activity generated by the university and its students to another part of town does nothing to increase the total economic activity in the city.
Our focus should be on attracting 5000 more students to study in Christchurch, not on shifting the current activity 10km to the east.
Fifthly, the university must focus on recruiting and retaining students, supporting staff and their research effort and reassuring potential collaborators and stakeholders that the university is fully operational.
Our laboratories and libraries, lecture theatres and infrastructure are capable of supporting our current community into the future. Talk of relocating the university has the potential to be an enormous distraction.
So what might attract the university to locate some activities within the four avenues?
In the case of teaching and research related to medicine, obviously the university would welcome the opportunity to support the creation of a world- leading research and teaching medical complex to support the million people who live in the South Island.
A postgraduate medical school, the training of allied medical professionals and development of advanced applied medical technologies should be focused in what is known as the central business district, but may in future be known as the Centre of Advanced Applied Medicine.
It may also make sense to locate sports and recreation facilities in proximity to the existing stadium, and health sciences, which are not unrelated to sports science, may also be considered.
In its draft campus master plan, the university identified its desire to provide for facilities for music on its Ilam campus and to enhance the sports and recreational infrastructure to support health, lifestyles and wellbeing for its community.
As these plans are progressed, they should not be seen as in conflict with the needs of other communities that constitute the greater city of Christchurch.
We do not seek and cannot afford to replace the Town Hall, Convention Centre, QE II Stadium or Arts Centre, but we will develop arts, cultural, entertainment, recreation and retail activities of appropriate scale to support our vibrant community and wider neighbourhood.
We will do this mindful of and in association with the wider city and the emerging vision of the area that formerly housed many businesses but may in the future be home to medical, recreational and sporting facilities for which the city and region could become renowned, and where relevant research and teaching is co-located and employees and students choose to live.
That vision does not require the university to relocate but merely to be convinced, as it reaches out, that there is a real opportunity to be grasped.
- © Fairfax NZ News
How do the chores get shared in your house?Related story: Housework - not just a woman's job