Despite $10-million gift, no timelines offered on SAITSA HQ

Gift Wrapped: The crowd in SAIT’s Stan Grad Centre reacts after the announcement the SAIT Students’ Association (SAITSA) has donated $10 million to SAIT, for construction of a student centre, on Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019. On stage are SAIT president Dr. David Ross (right) and chair of the SAITSA board of directors, Ryan Morstad. (Photo by Alex Hamilton/The Press)

It will be months, and perhaps years, before SAIT students see construction begin on a long-promised new headquarters for SAITSA.

That’s was the bottom line on the announcement Jan. 23 that the students’ association was turning over $10 million raised for the project from student fees to the institute.

While SAIT has promised to get the headquarters built, there is no firm timeline for the project, and significant funding challenges remain, officials said.

SAIT president David Ross said that the building, dubbed SAITSA HQ, has a total price tag of $35 million, with a request before the provincial government for the additional $25 million still pending.

Ross explained after that for now, the $10 million would “go into safekeeping,” being invested alongside other endowments, and will “become available when we start to build.”

“We invest endowment funds on a regular basis at SAIT. The money’s well taken care of and will be ready to go when we need it.

“The money that’s being donated will be the cornerstone of the new student centre, and will help students for many, many generations to come,” Ross said.

However, because the provincial loan has yet to be approved, neither Ross nor SAITSA director Ryan Morstad would say when students can expect construction to begin.

Ross and Morstad admitted that the upcoming provincial election complicates that process.

The United Conservative Party (UCP) has proposed freezing government spending until the Alberta budget is balanced. In addition, the UCP has proposed making post-secondary students’ union fees voluntary.

“We haven’t committed to a timeline yet because the unknown is still the government approval, but one thing I will say is that the planning is well under way,” said Ross.

“We want it in the ground as soon as possible.”

Morstad, meanwhile, said that “timelines are really hard” and noted that the funds may have to come from other sources.

“We also have a great team of our staff working on possible other sources, as well as some private donations.”

Without commenting on the provincial process, Morstad said he trusted SAIT to deliver.

“They have built many, many buildings on this campus.

“They know how to handle it better than us. I’m sure it won’t be too long.”

In January, 2018, SAITSA declared SAITSA HQ would break ground in the spring. At that point, an architectural firm had been chosen, and concept art of the building released. The website created, saitsahq.com, was also announced. That site was offline as of Jan. 27 this year.

SAITSA HQ has been planned since 2007-08, and the $10 million came from students voting in 2009 to contribute to a fund toward its construction.

In a second SAITSA referendum in 2015, students voted to release the funds and begin planning the building.

This time, the heavily-hyped joint announcement did not emphasize the building, but the $10 million donation, celebrating what both parties called a unique relationship between the school and its students’ association.

A press release noted that the donation was “the largest gift from a student’s association to an institute of technology in Western Canada.” The announcement ceremony at SAIT’s Stan Grad Centre was packed with students, alumni, and current and former SAITSA executives.

We haven’t committed to a timeline yet because the unknown is still the government approval. – David Ross

“We asked for students to come back and take a leap of faith,” said former SAITSA president David Jones, who first oversaw the project.

“We knew we needed a place that was ours,” said Jones.

Ross praised the relationship between SAIT and its students’ association.

“Not all students’ associations are created equal.”

“I can’t say how proud how I am of the students that have worked year over year to build this. Easily, this could have gone away but here we are celebrating.”

The building is planned to be located on land on the southeast side of the Campus Centre and just north of the C-Train line.

About Alex Hamilton 3 Articles
As a news reporting and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Alex Hamilton is working as a writer for The Press during the 2018-19 academic year.

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