Student housing for NAIT on Blatchford land is “still going to happen,” says NAIT President and CEO Glenn Feltham. Originally reported in 2013, NAIT has had its sights on acquiring and developing a portion of the adjacent former airport land for a few years.
Feltham told The Nugget last week that the Blatchford subdivision development, which would include, in NAIT’s portion, student dorms, a clinic, childcare and new athletic facilities, will be part of “one of the niftiest communities in North America.” However, negotiations with the City of Edmonton have been sluggish, leading some to question whether it’s ever going to happen.
“As we’re moving towards our vision, when we have the opportunity to move on those things, when windows open, we’ll be ready to move through those,” said Feltham.
“The city has had to determine its vision for those lands. We have always been a part of what that will be but we’re still working with the city on exactly how that works.”
In an update given to staff from an a Board of Governors meeting last October, Feltham said that both the city and NAIT have agreed on broad terms but “much work must still be done before an agreement is finalized.”
NAIT is currently one of the largest post-secondaries in North America without student housing on campus. Most students decide to rent while some live at MacEwan or U of A dorms.
One of the biggest challenges besides cost is the promise that Blatchford will use renewable energy, be carbon neutral and be designed to encourage sustainable lifestyle choices.
“The complexities of these types of transactions are really significant in everything, like managing the energy system,” said Feltham “So I wouldn’t say the price is the primary sticking point, it’s just gaining a level of comfort for both parties.”
“Blatchford itself is going to be too cool for words.”
If NAIT gets the land it hopes for, it would have the potential in the future to move all of the skilled trades onto main campus where 95 per cent of students would then take classes. That could mean a huge new building.
“It would unbelievable to bring all our skilled trades back to Main Campus, but the nature of the skills centre we would need would be twice the size of CAT. So when we’re looking at a skills centre, it would have to be, for example, where the bus barns are now. That would have to be an 11-acre or 12-acre building.”
Consolidating on one main campus, plus Spruce Grove, the home of the new crane and hoisting program, would help NAIT’s goal of growing by over 50 per cent with almost half of these students in programs that didn’t exist 10 years ago. That would mean an estimated 20,000 new students. From 2008-13, NAIT went from 2.2 applications for every available program seat to 3.9 applications, with total applications doubling.
Despite NAIT’s 2016-17 deficit of $6.1 million, its first in 15 years, and a statement by Feltham on March 1 that “we cannot continue to operate as we are,” he is optimistic for the future.
“I can’t imagine there’s an institution anywhere that’s better positioned for the future and that’s able to meet the needs of learners and industry than NAIT.”
In 2011, NAIT drafted its vision for the future called NAIT 2021, a plan for what the school will look like in 2021. The aim is for it to become one of the world’s leading polytechnics and the most relevant and responsive institution in Canada.
Currently, NAIT administration is looking at updating the plan. NAIT 2021+ will affirm NAIT’s promises to industry, students, staff and Alberta, and will uphold NAIT’s core values of collaboration, accountability, respect, support, and celebration.
– Michael Menzies, Senior Editor