October 30, 2009
Supplied by Facilities Management Division
By Colleen MacPherson
The university and its partner Meridian Development Corporation are putting the finishing touches on a construction agreement that should see work begin soon on the first new student residences at the U of S in 35 years.
Richard Florizone, vice-president finance and resources, confirmed the Board of Governors gave its approval to the location, budget and design of the 400-bed project Oct. 9. The board also granted the university permission to arrange about $20 million in external loan financing which will be repaid from rental income over the next 25 years.
“We're in the final stages of finalizing the agreement with Meridian,” Florizone said, “and we want to get in there and do site preparation as soon as possible. Our goal is at least partial occupancy next fall.”
To be located south and east of the Williams Building on Cumberland Avenue, the first phase of the housing complex will include two multi-storey buildings made up of 10 one-bed units, 10 two-bed units, 10 three-bed units and 85 four-bed units. Other amenities will include laundry facilities, study rooms, a lounge, garbage recycling and bicycle storage.
Phase two of the project, with another 400 beds, is planned for a site northeast of the Williams Building. Aird Street will be extended onto the property to provide access and parking with additional space for vehicles in the McEown parking lots.
In addition to the external funding, phase one of the project will be financed with a $15 million grant from the Ministry of Social Services announced Feb. 4, as well as a $575,000 grant from the City of Saskatoon.
The board also gave approval in principle to a $3 million amenities building for the site. Florizone said the idea for this building evolved during project development and from a survey of student housing at other institutions, particularly the new UBC Marine Drive Residence. Initial plans for the building, which could potentially serve over 1,400 students living in the area, show space for offices, computer, exercise and music rooms, and social gathering areas like a coffee bar. “The challenge,” added Florizone, “is that the amenities building doesn't fit into the current budget.” The university will investigate possible funding sources.
Taking on Meridian as an external partner in a capital project is new for the university and requires some additional negotiation but Florizone is confident the end result will be impressive. In delivering buildings, the university has operated at both ends of a spectrum, he explained, with traditional academic buildings managed by the U of S in a strong oversight role at one end. At the other are projects like Preston Crossing “where we have fewer academic interests and are more concerned with optimizing the financial aspect,” offering more control to private sector partners.
“What we're doing with this housing project is somewhere in between. We never wanted to turn housing over to a third party but we've found a good balance. The project is conventional in that the funding is from the U of S and the government but we're leveraging Meridian's experience with housing. It's taking a bit of time but it's going to yield new housing for the first time in 35 years and I think people will be impressed with the high design standards and the cost efficiency.”