University of Saskatchewan president Peter Stoicheff had seen plenty of pictures and renderings of the building that is to become the university’s new Prince Albert location. But he hadn’t had a chance to step foot inside the site, known now as the Forest Centre.
That changed Wednesday.
While in the city to sign an MOU with the Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC), Stoicheff and representatives from the PAGC toured portions of the building, getting an opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at the facility, set to open to students in the fall of 2020.
“It was the first time I’d been in it, and it was as beautiful as I was led to expect,” Soitcheff said after his tour.
“I’m really delighted to see it.”
The province originally envisioned the Forest Centre as a facility to boost the forestry sector by housing research projects. That dream was never fulfilled.
Last year, the university purchased the building for $8.125 million with the intent to transform it into what it is calling the University of Saskatchewan Prince Albert Northern Gateway Hub. It’s spending an estimated an additional $4.7 million on renovations, bringing the total cost of the project to about $13.5 million.
Stoicheff said he’s excited about the new building for many reasons.
“We’ve run many programs and parts of programs in Prince Albert for many years, but they’ve been scatted across the city. Some of them in the old Bay building, some of them on the Sask. Poly campus site. We were fortunate to have those spaces, but this brings all of the students from all of the different programs together in one place that can be dedicated to those students.”
In addition to providing a space for students to attend classes and access services, the location will also provide space for the return of the dental program and more science classes than were previously available.
‘We’ll be able to start offering science programs that we were limited to pretty well just offering the first year of because of the need for lab space,” Stoicheff said.
“We can provide (lab space) in this venue. We couldn’t before.”
The building also allows the university to grow its footprint in Prince Albert.
“it’s a much larger building than we currently need space for. We have somewhere between 300 and 400 students taking courses from us in P.A. right now, but we imagine those numbers will grow,” he said.
Some tenants, such as the Crown prosecutions office and MNP LLP already exist in the building. They will be able to remain inside the Forest Centre.
Stoicheff was joined on the tour by PAGC Vice-Chief Christopher Jobb. Jobb was unavailable for comment as he had to attend another meeting.
“We just heard it from Vice-Chief Jobb on our tour,” Stoicheff said. “Those (enrolment) numbers will grow very, very quickly. There will be an opportunity to expand without moving tenants out. We’ll be able to bring in more and more students with the space we have at the moment.”
The announcement of the university taking over the building has been met with a positive reception in the city, with praise coming from the downtown business association and the mayor, as well as with the PAGC.
“I know there’s a lot of enthusiasm among the P.A. Grand Council members,” Stoicheff said.
‘The location is wonderful. I’m told by the mayor and others that it will be wonderful for the local economy, and the fact that we can provide support for students in one place as if it’s a mini-campus is a huge advantage.”