Over the years, I visited many post-secondary campuses, looking into how others developed teaching excellence and curriculum.

While I was visiting, I always took photos of interesting architectural features. In the late '80s, while executive in residence at the International Management Institute in Switzerland, I visited a college in Norway. Its innovative architecture served as the inspiration for our Jasper Place campus. 

Oxford’s medieval Bodleian Library was the inspiration for the vaulted ceilings and arches of the City Centre Campus library. But long before we filled that library with books, we spent years hatching the notion of building a City Centre Campus on recovered railyard.

Edmonton’s then-mayor, Laurence Decore, was enthusiastic about the idea of accomplishing what the city had wanted to do for a half-century. The rails had divided the city core, separating the heart of downtown from “the other side of the tracks.” Decore suggested there could be close to a hundred acres there, and MacEwan might get two or three of them. I chuckled, explaining, “Mr. Mayor, we’re talking about a campus that may grow to be the size of the University of Alberta … so we need it all." We ended up with about half of it.

I pitched the idea of tall towers separating MacEwan buildings to blend our low-rise campus in with downtown’s high-rise buildings. Our architects loved the concept and quickly backed the idea, even ensuring that reducing the towers’ height as a cost-saving measure was never seriously considered.

We experimented with opening up the age-old classroom concept of confining a teacher and students to a secluded space with four walls. On the ground floor of Building 7, we designed several classrooms inspired by shopping mall store windows. The public, walking along lamped streets, could see teaching and learning activities taking place.

Though there was an incredible amount of time and energy put into creating City Centre Campus, I hope that I never lost sight of what really counted at MacEwan. It was what occurred at the chalkface – in the everyday classroom. Teacher-student relationships were at the heart and soul of our success. Caring faculty knew each student by their first name and took pride in teaching and nurturing learning, and were enthusiastic about what was taught in their program. It made my day when I heard students in the cafeteria excitedly praise their program and their faculty. 

What emerged from this "students first" ethic was a feeling amongst learners that they were the primary reason for MacEwan’s existence. Of paramount importance, highly satisfied graduates were the best possible ambassadors for MacEwan. They were the behind-the-scenes builders of our City Centre Campus.

– Dr. Gerald (Gerry) O. Kelly, President of Grant MacEwan Community College from 1981 to 1995

Dr. MacEwan and Dr. Kelly

In 1996, Dr. Kelly (pictured here with Dr. Grant MacEwan) became the first president of Royal Roads University in Victoria, B.C. He retired in 2002. 

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