UVic wants to meet demand for more residence beds

Earlier this year, UVic’s Five-year Capital Plan came out. The plan outlines the university’s recent physical changes, including upgrades to six of its oldest buildings and a nod to one of its biggest priority projects: CARSA (Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities).

Also noteworthy in the Five-year Capital Plan is priority number two —– student housing expansion and renewal. One of the main goals of this expansion is to “develop a plan for residential graduate and undergraduate student housing that maintains our first-year residence guarantee, gives priority to returning co-op, study-abroad and international students and contemplates a doubling of our current on-campus capacity..”

But, as with CARSA, this expansion project is laden with difficulties.

Currently, as part of a recruitment prerogative, any first-year student who applies to UVic before June 30 is guaranteed a spot in residence. After that, the remaining beds are given out to returning students through a lottery system as there are not enough beds to go around.

At present, funding seems to be what is holding UVic back from expanding its already burgeoning residences.

The planned development would provide an additional 500–800 beds and is estimated to cost anywhere from $75 million to $120 million. The Five-year Capital Plan also states that “this does not include any required infrastructure costs, which could range from $5 000 000 to $10 000 000.”

“University residences must be self-funded,” says Joel Lynn, executive director of student services. “From the construction period to operating the buildings throughout their life spans, all costs associated with residences must be covered by the fees you collect.”

During a UVic Senate meeting on Oct. 5, UVic President David Turpin explained that, because of the way that the university is accounted for under the provincial government’s reporting entity, any borrowing the school does adds to the government debt, so the provincial government won’t let UVic borrow money to build the new residences, even though student residence fees would pay the money back. UVic is looking to get those accounting characteristics changed.

“The ability for the university to carry debt is a provincial decision,” Lynn says. “Right now, we are unable to carry [as] the university’s debt rolls up onto the province’s books.” This restriction makes it difficult to move forward.

Beyond the monetary restrictions, UVic is also governed by municipal building regulations. Requirements include a business plan, thorough knowledge of the building’s lifespan and compliance to a certain structural style.

Despite the obstacles, the university has started looking to expand. There are plans for a substantial market study in the near future, but there are still lots of important questions to answer before moving forward.

The recent addition of 106 beds, as a result of UVic’s last capital plan, has done little to stem the demand for on-campus residences. With last year’s Facility Condition Assessment out of the way and a market analysis report completed as of this year, the university is assessing potential locations for expansion.

Lynn says, “The exact on-campus location for new residences has yet to be determined.”

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