UVic puts focus on student housing

UVic is embarking on a planning process to provide more campus housing, looking to address a long-standing student complaint.

Mike Wilson, director of campus planning and sustainability at the University of Victoria, said the project will see the construction of two buildings with a total of about 785 beds.

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Of those, about 625 will be new spaces and 160 will replace beds in buildings that are being demolished. The university currently has housing for 2,300 students.

“We are really focused on this project, working to bring these beds online, learning what we can, and, once we have them up and running, looking at where to do we go from there,” Wilson said.

The new beds will help address problems identified by students who attend UVic: a lack of housing on campus and the high rents in the capital region.

“It’s real positive thing to see they [UVic] are adding in new residence buildings,” said Curtis Whittla, director of finance and operations for the UVic Students’ Society.

At a planned total cost of $200 million, the new housing project will be the biggest single capital project ever undertaken by UVic, Wilson said.

Demolition and construction are envisioned to start in 2020 beginning with the deconstruction of the Margaret Newton Residence and Emily Carr Hall, south of the Student Union Building.

The university is also beginning planning on a project to build 53 units of housing for graduate students on university-owned property on Broad Street in downtown Victoria.

UVic has a policy of guaranteeing a place in residences to first-year students, who occupy about 80 per cent of campus housing. But after their first year, students can find themselves scrambling to find rental accommodation in the community. The university’s total student population is 22,000, and competition can be fierce.

Several layouts are being considered for the new housing. One type, aimed at older students, will allow students access to a community-style shared kitchen and living area. They can buy and prepare at least some of their meals beyond the dining hall.

UVic believes that keeping some of the more senior students on campus will build a stronger community. And Wilson said living on campus gives students access to programs and services available on campus but not in the community.

“There a lot of opportunities student will have on campus that students living in the community don’t necessarily have,” he said. “These are all things that will help build community on campus.”

The university has held several open houses about its plans.

Wilson said so far reviews from the neighbouring community have been positive, but more feedback would be appreciated. To learn more and weigh in, go to uvic.ca/new-student-housing.

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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