Neighbourhood project back on campus
While both its scope and its location have changed, the University Neighbourhood Project continues to move forward in an effort to address the need for more housing for U of S students.
Originally proposed as a massive 750-bed development along Cumberland Avenue from College Drive to McEown Park, the project’s steering committee is now considering a more modest 200-250-bed development adjacent to Place Riel that will involve renovation of existing space as well as new construction. For Richard Florizone, vice-president of finance and resources, moving the project to the Place Riel area clearly reflects a student preference for residences in the core area in order to foster a stronger community on campus.
In adjusting its plans, Florizone said the committee consulted with the U of S Student’s Union Council and the Voyageur Place Students Association who all supported the creation of new residences closer to the campus core, not further away.
The move is “also a recognition of the value of these historic spaces to students as residence,” said Florizone, who admitted his views are “a bit coloured” by his own experience living in historic residence buildings at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In addition to aesthetic appeal, the committee has determined that converting historic buildings to residences, or returning others to their original use as residences, is more economical than new construction.
According to information presented to the Board of Governors at its February meeting, the project is expected to include new beds as well as student study, gathering and amenity space, all targeted at first and second year students. New residence space is identified in the Enrolment Plan as being critical to the University’s ability to recruit and retain students.
One of the major drawbacks to the Cumberland Avenue residence project was the cost of a link across Campus Drive.
A preliminary schedule for the residence development suggests the earliest completion date would be the fall of 2009. No budget has been draw up yet, Florizone said. “We need to crunch the numbers a bit more and we will be having a broader consultation on this broad vision.”
He went on to say relocating the residences will also allow them to be tied in with other developments in that area of campus such as the city’s transit hub. The hub, to be situated in front of Place Riel, was given initial board approval Feb. 9 but strictly as an interim step. Set to be constructed over the summer, the hub will double the number of buses coming onto campus which means “people will be able to get to the University much more easily from all over the city”, he said. It will also require the closure of Campus Drive in front of Place Riel but “the benefit of this solution is that it’s a test”.
“We want to make sure that we can ensure the safety of students, that we don’t end up with worse pollution than we have now, and that we increase green space, not reduce it.”
Included in the hub development is a modification to the air intake for Place Riel, he said, which will see air drawn in from a position higher than the current intake.
Florizone expects the hub, which will be paid for by the city, will remain in place for 24 to 36 months as the University “looks at the whole south area of campus and updates the local area plan. I don’t know yet what the optimal final location of the hub will be but it seems unlikely it will stay in the same place.”