University of Victoria students look over plans for new residences on campus. UVic photo

UVic student housing project in the works

Open houses set for June 13 at the McPherson Library and June 14 at Goward House

The University of Victoria will host two open houses next week intended to garner community input on a significant university initiative to improve student housing.

“UVic has been wanting to build more student housing for a number of years now. There is a significant need to improve the availability of that housing and we are moving ahead with it, but we are also doing it in a way that ensures that we engage students and the community in the planning of that housing,” said Mike Wilson, director of campus planning and sustainability.

“We’re doing extensive consultation as part of the design process. Quite simply, it’s easier to amend the design to respond to concerns in the early stages of the process.”

The university currently has a total of 21 dormitory buildings on site, offering a total of 2,300 beds and 181 family units. When this inventory is compared to the average enrolment at the school of more than 21,000 students, and when the fact that the regional rental vacancy rate has hovered between 0.5 and 0.7 per cent for several years, it comes as no surprise that housing poses a significant problem for students.

Wilson reported that every year the university receives about 1,000 more requests for housing than they can accommodate.

“We have a policy that first-year students are given priority and that means that 80 per cent of the residences are filled by those students, leaving the students in their upper years of education in a tough position in terms of housing,” said Wilson.

The upcoming open houses are part of a continuing effort to seek the input of the students and community at large as well as to inform them of what is happening in terms of student housing.

Original engagement with stakeholders about the proposed housing projects began in 2017 with a series of consultations with students and faculty, and in March 2018, expanded to a series of meetings, open houses and pop-up events, as well as an online survey both on and off campus to seek even more input.

The feedback received to date has played an important role in assisting UVic in their design process.

Some of the significant principles under consideration include the desire to preserve as much of the green space at the university as possible, in part by adopting a strategy of “building up” with buildings design to be at least four storeys high with the potential of going higher, should the appropriate building variances be granted.

Sustainability has also become an important consideration as the planners are working toward new structures that achieve LEED Gold Standard; a standard that transcends simple design factors and incorporates sustainable operational policies and procedures.

Following the upcoming open houses, the $200 million project will move toward the approval and final planning process. Wilson explained that UVic hopes to submit their application to Saanich council before the end of the year, but not before they go back to the community for a final consultation in the fall.

If all goes well, construction on the first phase of the project would begin in 2020, with a planned opening of the buildings in 2022. This phase, located to the south of the Student Union Building, will require the deconstruction of Emily Carr Residence and Margaret Newton Residence and will include a dining hall and servery on the main floor with student housing on the upper floors.

The second phase of the project will require the deconstruction of the existing Cadboro Commons building and, when completed, will include conference, meeting and academic space on the main floor with student housing on the upper floors. Phase two is slated to begin in 2022 with an anticipated completion date in 2024.

The upcoming open houses will take place on Wednesday, June 13, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at UVic’s McPherson Library and on Thursday, June 14, from 5 to 8 p.m. at Goward House, 2495 Arbutus Rd.

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