Board asked to OK $60m development for South Campus
By Colleen MacPherson
After almost four years of planning, the University is finally ready to go to the Board of Governors for initial approval of a residence project that will transform Cumberland Avenue from McEown Park to College Drive.
The $60-million University Neighbourhood Project – a combination of new construction and renovation that, by 2008, will add some 750 new beds for students – is expected to be presented to the Board at its June meeting. Approval there will mean design of the massive project can proceed “in earnest,” said Colin Tennent, director of planning and development with Facilities Management Division (FMD) and University architect.
“This is an opportunity to push the University ahead in a very positive way,” he said, “but like anything worth pursuing, it’s a challenge”, not the least of which is meeting the needs of all those with a stake in the project.
A development of this magnitude influences many aspects of campus life, he said, a fact reflected by the steering committee’s membership of more than 20 people. Members represent Student and Enrolment Services, Corporate Administration, Huskie Athletics, Consumer Services, FMD, University Advancement, Financial Services, Interdisciplinary & International Programs, Undergraduate Affairs, USSU, Graduate Students’ Association, Communications, and Integrated Planning. The project’s complexity has pushed it about a year behind schedule, “but it’s worth spending that additional year in planning to ensure we get what we want,” said Tennent. “I think we’ve shown healthy caution in the way we’ve proceeded.”
To be built on what is called the South Campus, the proposed complex includes 450 suite-style beds, 300 dorm beds, 20 hotel beds available for visitors to campus, commercial space, and the Bookstore relocated from its current site on the Bowl. The project also includes decommissioning the Qu’Appelle Hall Addition as a residence and converting it to office space and building a 72-bed addition to Athabasca Hall.
To finance the project, the University will borrow the capital, which will be repaid using revenue generated by the project, said Laura Kennedy, associate vice-president of financial services. As was required with the $14.1 million borrowed to build the Stadium Parkade, the University will need provincial government approval to proceed, but “the government is comfortable as long as there is a business plan in place for the debt recovery”.
Commenting on the residence project’s hefty price tag, Tennent said there has been a “remarkable increase in tender costs” industry-wide. In addition, “the University tends to be fairly demanding in that we know exactly what we want and our projects tend to be a little more complex than other jobs in the marketplace”.
Colin Hartl, a space planner in FMD, pointed out the University has not built a residence since about 1976 so planning such a development has been a new process for many. It is also a difference process, said Tennent. The bricks and mortar are the easy part of what is, today, a very sophisticated approach to providing housing for students. It now includes considering programming, facilities, services, support and assistance as part of the overall student experience.
Critical to the success of both the residence project and the adjacent parkade is construction of a $3.6-million enclosed pedestrian link over College Drive that will connect the south campus to the main campus. Tennent said there exists the perception that the area to be developed is “the wrong side of the tracks, that it’s off campus and that College Drive is a barrier”. The walkway is elemental to dispelling that perception.
While no firm concept has been developed, the planners expect the Bookstore to “take on the nature or flavour of a Chapters or a McNally Robinson”, meaning a café-style outlet with front-end, high-turnover inventory. Tennent said there has been discussion of off-site storage of textbooks with an ordering and delivery system.
The plan calls for the current Bookstore space to be taken over by Food Services, part of a $1.5-million modernization of Marquis Hall as the primary food outlet for students and staff.
Completion of the various components is expected to stretch into late 2008, with the first part – the Qu’Appelle Hall Addition converted into offices for faculty, sessionals, post-doctoral and graduate students – set for occupancy in September 2006.
That will be followed, in September 2007, by the opening of the $4.25-million addition to Athabasca Hall, with the remaining residences and commercial space completed in time for the start of the 2008-09 academic year.
In addition to selling the plan to the Board, a great deal of effort will be focused on ensuring the communities surrounding the University are kept informed of the project’s progress.