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The Oamaru stone-clad building is expected to house a new Unipol student gymnasium and recreation centre, the Foundation Studies language centre and foundation-year programme, and a cafe for staff, students and the public.
The university has not released a tender price, claiming commercial sensitivity, though it has said the building may cost more than $40 million.
The building's exterior is expected to be finished by August, the internal fit-out by December, and there are plans for a second building to be built after the Rugby World Cup is over.