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Inside the Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre

SASKATOON – It’s been a source of excitement from the second it was announced. The new Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre opened it’s doors Tuesday to media for a sneak peak of the much anticipated gathering place.

Considered a crown jewel on the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) campus, every detail of the centre has been painstakingly crafted and created with cultural significance in mind.

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“It’s still hard to describe how you put something like this together but it was remarkably well done,” said Colin Tennent, associate vice-president of the facilities management division at U of S.

Officials say everything about the building is beautiful but complex.

Meaghan Craig/Global News

The ceiling in the common space of the building for instance features a skylight in the centre of a medicine wheel with hidden ventilation so the space can accommodate ceremonial smudging and pipe ceremonies.

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The 20,279 square-foot building also features gender-neutral washrooms, a staff room for elders, is highly sustainable and visitors are greeted at the front door by an artistic feature wall.

The exterior of the building complements other campus buildings with the use of Tyndall stone and four different coloured tiles embedded on the outside represent all four seasons.

The masterpiece was designed by Douglas Cardinal, a world renowned Métis and Blackfoot architect who also designed the First Nations University of Canada.

According to Tennent, it was a privilege to work with such an architect giant on a building located so centrally on campus, it’s hard to ignore.

“This is strategically one of the best locations you could choose, it’s right at one of our major entrances to the campus,” he said.

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“The fact that it is a round or circular plan form I think is impressive, we don’t have a lot of buildings with that plan form so symbolically, culturally I think is just a huge achievement.”

Two years of construction and $17 million later, the building is intended to be an intercultural, inclusive gathering place.

Graeme Joseph, team leader of First Nations, Métis and Inuit student success at the U of S and tour guide on Tuesday, said the centre is dedicated to aboriginal student success.

“There are currently 2,200 aboriginal students on campus, 56 per cent of those students are First Nations and roughly about 44 per cent of them are Métis,” he said.

“This centre not only is designed to meet their need now but also thinking about the growth in the aboriginal population into the future.”

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Statistics Canada estimates by 2036, one in five residents in Manitoba and Saskatchewan will be First Nations people, Métis or Inuit. According to Joseph, creating spaces like the Gordon Oakes Redbear Student Centre can only mean success for Saskatchewan as well.

“In the end, it’s a building. It’s a beautiful building and what we do inside is going to create new opportunities for students and that’s going to be community driven.”

The centre will open Jan. 4, 2016 once students return to campus after Christmas. A grand opening is planned for February.