UVic readies for in-class learning for close to 22,000: ‘Our goal is to be as full as possible’

The University of Victoria is working on plans for bringing students back to campus in September after a year of mostly remote learning.

Joel Lynn, UVic’s executive director of student services, said he expects numbers returning for classes to be close to the 22,000 students attending annually in recent years.

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“Our goal is to be as full as possible,” he said. “Students are really, really eager to get back to campus, and that’s what the provincial government has tasked us to work towards.”

Only about 4,000 students — including those in some engineering fields and fine arts, as well as graduate students involved in research labs — were on the Gordon Head campus during the last year because of pandemic restrictions, while the rest learned virtually.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry advised March 8 that post-secondary institutions should begin planning for a September return to on-campus learning.

While details of UVic’s efforts to bring back students are still being worked out, construction is underway near the Student Union Building on a $232.4-million housing and dining project designed for an additional 621 students who would otherwise be living away from the campus.

The project, which involved removing two older residence complexes and the Cadboro Commons Building, will help take the pressure off rental accommodation in the wider community, Lynn said.

“Certainly this project has come about with a really good partnership with the muncipalities of Saanich and Oak Bay, as they are also looking to advance the scale and quantity of market rental housing available.”

The two-building complex will have a 600-seat dining hall to serve the entire university, two 225-seat lecture halls, retail space and meeting/conference areas, along with a central greenway. One building is set for completion in September 2022 and the other in September 2023.

Mike Wilson, UVic’s director of campus planning and sustainability, said the buildings feature mass timber construction, a process in which smaller pieces of wood are adhered together to form beams and other large components. The process is less carbon-intensive than manufacturing steel or concrete.

Construction is also following specifications from the Passive House Institute, which has established energy-efficient building standards that lead to at least 50 per cent less overall energy use than in typical buildings in North America.

Lynn said students have continued to inquire about on-campus living space during the pandemic. “We’re still receiving over 1,000 applications a year from students who want an on-campus housing experience that we can’t meet with the current number of beds we have,” he said. “As we know, a residence experience is absolutely critical in terms of student development, student success and finding their place in an entirely new environment here at UVic.”

The project will bring the number of student-housing beds at UVic to just under 3,000.

jbell@timescolonist.com

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