The University of Victoria has released a glimpse into the future with a new draft of its 2015 Campus Plan. Within its 93-page depths are major changes to campus landmarks, big plans for parking lots, and a building site on one of the last remaining ecological areas within Ring Road.
Emily Thiessen, who is involved with UVision — a project created by the UVic Sustainability Project (UVSP) to advocate for student priorities in the Campus Plan — said that although the draft encompasses many student priorities, there are still issues to be addressed. “The biggest thing in the plan that doesn’t align with what we wanted to see in UVision is a potential building site location listed in a section of Cunningham Woods,” said Thiessen. “[Cunningham Woods] is an area that’s really valued to students and also has ecological uniqueness because it’s the only green space inside the Ring.”
Speaking to the Martlet, Neil Connelly, Director of Campus Planning and Sustainability, admitted that the plans for Cunningham Woods “have gotten some attention” and clarified that the Campus Plan provides protection for the majority of the woods “except for the north edge, where it anticipates, or outlines, a potential future building site next to the Engineering and Computer Science Building.” However, the plan says little about what the building will actually house, instead citing its main purpose being “to establish and reinforce a safe, east-west connection south of the Island Medical Building”.
“It’s interesting, the wording they’ve used,” said Lindsay Kathrens, co-coordinator of UVic’s Ecological Restoration Volunteer Network. “The basic idea that they’re trying to put out there is that creating a built structure along that pathway creates a feeling of natural surveillance . . . a sort of crime prevention measure.”
“That’s a problematic way of approaching it,” said Kathrens, “because there are other, cheaper ways of dealing with that, which would be adding lighting and potentially — in as ecologically sensitive a way as possible — dealing with some of the vegetation that’s blocking people’s ability to view the entire path.”
Kathrens is also part of Students for Cunningham Woods, a group concerned about the proposed building development that has created an online petition and a Facebook group. Their petition has garnered 153 signatures as of press time, with a goal of 500.
In a more environmentally positive move, sources of renewable energy are discussed in the Campus Plan, and could even replace current parking lots. Parking lots 1 and 6 are cited as the most promising locations for a potential solar farm and biomass facility, respectively. However, Connelly mentioned that a recent study done to assess the practicality of biomass at UVic “determined that at this point, biomass wasn’t really feasible.” As for solar energy, resurfacing a parking lot with panels may not be imminent, but Connelly mentioned that outside of the draft Campus Plan, the university’s Integrated Master Energy Plan cites solar thermal energy as a potential compliment to the current gas boiler system that supplies the university with hot water.
Another ambitious change proposed in the Campus Plan is the re-structuring of Ring Road. Connelly described the potential development as “looking to have Ring Road function more as a people place.”
“This plan really speaks to opening up more activity areas [and] social interaction spaces closer to Ring Road,” Connelly said. “One option [is] to put a multi-use pathway on the inside of Ring Road that cyclists and pedestrians could share.” Connelly also revealed that the road could be narrowed from two lanes of travel to a single traffic lane alongside a string of spaces for parking.
Further pedestrian and cyclist-friendly developments may be on the way in front of CARSA, with the plan stating that it will “Explore the possibility of creating a new outdoor plaza connecting the main lobby at CARSA with the McKinnon Building” by making the southern portion of Gabriola Road inaccessible to traffic. However, as with many of the proposed changes, no specific timeline is mentioned.
For students keen to get involved in the final stages of the Campus Plan, Connelly revealed that the Nov. 4 feedback deadline is “not a totally hard date” and submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org would be accepted up until the 10th. There will be another open house in Jan. 13, 2016, but it will primarily act as a showcase for the final Campus Plan Draft rather than as an opportunity to make changes.