The University of Calgary’s $8.1-million renovation to the offices of high-ranking administrators is raising some questions on and off campus.

The administration building, one of the original campus buildings dating to 1964, needed “substantial re-investment to bring all areas up to current building codes, standards and contemporary functional layouts,” according to documents.

“The executive leadership team, their respective senior staff and support staff are currently in multiple locations across campus. The current arrangement is confusing to both the internal and external communities, and does not foster the best use of the collective skills of this senior team in supporting the academy.”

The board of governors approved the decision last December, and the project went ahead despite deep cuts this year in provincial funding to Alberta’s post-secondary institutions. The U of C’s operating budget was slashed by $41 million and capital budget by $6 million.

Bob Ellard, the university’s vice-president of facilities, said they did reconsider the upgrades but in the end decided to go ahead anyway.

"We did not do this project at the expense of any other projects. We have a $6 million annual classroom upgrade program that went through last year, went through the year before, [and] will go through this year. We did not rob Peter to pay Paul to do these renovations."

Students upset

But some students at the University of Calgary are irritated by the decisions.

"I really feel sort of betrayed, in a way, because that money could have gone into education here at the university,” said Mohamed Ahmed.

Student Auska Adhikari says "it's wrong" and the millions should have been put towards the basics, like new desks and better bathrooms.

Paul Rogers, the faculty association president, also questions the decision.

"It's very surprising that we'd be putting so much money into this project when we've got a raft of other initiatives that need funding."

Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason says the decision shows the university’s board of governors has misplaced priorities.

"There seems to be ongoing problems at the administration of the University of Calgary. The government appoints the board of governors and they need to review their appointments to that board to make sure there are some people will go in there and rein in the administration and clean house."

Officials expected criticism

The $8.1-million renovation includes the expansion of the legal services officers and the redevelopment of the university secretariat's office.

An additional  $700,000 was spent on the psychology department’s space.

In the documents, the “risks” of the project include “reputational [sic] risks associated with prioritizing expenditures on administrative functions.”

“As a public institution with a high profile in the Calgary community, large expenditures on administrative spaces are open to criticism from both internal and external stakeholders.... Criticism from inside and outside the university is expected.”

With files from CBC's Kyle Bakx