September 5, 2008
By Colleen MacPherson
The U of S has put out a call to the private sector for some creative approaches to developing the first phase of the College Quarter student residence project.
An official request for proposals (RFP) was issued in August asking private developers, contractors or partnerships for ideas on constructing 200 four-bedroom student apartments on university-owned land east of the Williams Building. According to Richard Florizone, vice-president finance and resources, the university is willing to consider all possible means of increasing its inventory of student residences while also taking advantage of the provincial government’s interest in financially supporting student housing projects.
The U of S currently can house only some six per cent of its student population, about half the national average and well below institutions like the University of British Columbia, which provides accommodation for about 25 per cent of its students.
“We’ve identified student housing as a strategic priority,” said Florizone, but skyrocketing construction costs mean “the university cannot proceed to build residences on its own. We can’t build these kinds of residences without some kind of partnership whether it’s with government or with the private sector. The rent we could charge simply won’t cover the construction costs.”
Late last year, the university submitted a request for a $19 million grant from Saskatchewan Housing to build 200 student family townhouse units along Cumberland Avenue. That request was turned down, but Florizone said the government encouraged the university to revamp its proposal by taking a closer look at costs and considering private sector partners in the project.
Ultimately, the university decided four-bedroom units in multi-storey blocks made better economic sense and better use of its land resource, he said. Constructing the residences behind the Williams Building also leaves the north and south ends of the block between College Drive and 14th Street open for future development.
The RFP has attracted a great deal of interest, said James Cook, manager of business opportunities in Corporate Administration. “We’re looking for an up-front development partner and we’re encouraging people to be creative” not only with design but also with financial arrangements. He stressed that the RFP is not a tendering of the residences.
And because the project is neither an academic nor a research building, it appeals to a much wider range of possible partners, he said. The RFP originally called for proposals to be submitted by Sept. 12 but that deadline has been extended by about 10 days because of the level of interest.
Once the submissions are in, the university will have about four weeks to review them, make its selection and prepare a revised proposal for the government, Cook said.
The university reserves the right to accept any, all or none of the proposals, he said, and may opt to go with more than one. It has also stipulated it will retain ownership of the land and will be involved in the management of the residences to order to oversee the student life component or service portion of the operation.
Florizone said he expects construction will begin on new residences in 2009, and that they will be ready for students in 2010. “This is one of my top priorities.”