On-campus housing growing in Prairies

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Two new residences, one expansion will increase on-campus beds

Tannara Yelland
CUP Prairies & Northern Bureau Chief

 

The universities of Manitoba and Saskatchewan are building new residences, and the University of Winnipeg is considering adding on to a residence building that’s only a few years old. U of S vice-president finances and resources Richard Florizone attributes this trend to both need and favourable financial conditions.

 

The U of M and U of S are funding their projects partially through private funding, which will allow each school to take advantage of the lower interest rates that have resulted from the financial crisis of the past few years. The U of W project has not been approved yet, but if approved would likely be financed partially through a loan.

 

“When you look at this project, there’s clearly demand for housing,” Florizone said. “The other thing is that the recent economic instability has created low interest rates, so the financing we can obtain for a mortgage is much lower than it would be otherwise.”

 

Saskatoon and Winnipeg, the cities where these three universities are located, have some of the lowest vacancy rates in Canada.

 

Winnipeg’s rental vacancy rate is one per cent, while Saskatoon’s is slightly better at 2.1 per cent.

 

The U of S also has a below-average residence capacity for students. Until the new residence is opened, only six per cent of U of S students will be able to live in residences on campus. The universities of Alberta and British Columbia, Florizone said, are both capable of housing over 10 per cent of their student body.

 

The U of W is in a similar situation, according to senior executive officer Dan Hurley.

 

“We did a new residence project three years ago,” Hurley said, “and it was the first housing we had built on our campus for a very long time. There was a total 175 or 176 units.”

 

Hurley was careful to explain that the university has not yet decided to go ahead with the new building, saying, “There’s a lot of work to be done for securing funding and doing feasibility studies.”

 

However, the university has found a successful model in the one they used for the newest U of W residence: A combination of traditional dorm-style rooms with a smaller number of apartment-style units allows the university to accommodate the needs of both students and community members.

 

The U of M is building a new residence that should be open in 2011 because an older residence building is dilapidated and needs to be replaced, according to communications manager Leah Janzen.

 

Once the new residence is complete, the old one will be retrofitted to create space for the music program.

 

At the U of S, construction has already begun on the first phase of the new residence. The first portion was funded through a $15-million grant from the Saskatchewan government and another one from the City of Saskatoon, which promised the university $5,000 per residence unit.

 

“We were on budget and on time, and we were just very happy with the cost, quality and schedule,” said Florizone of the beginning stages of the project. “Then our [construction] partner Meridian came to us and told us, ‘If you proceed with phase two, you could save up to $3 million’ because of the cost of taking the crane down, and of stopping work and then starting again.”

 

When the U of S approached the provincial government for funding for the next portion of the residence, which will add a further 400 beds, they were rejected. They are still in talks with the city about a further $5,000 per unit, which Florizone said could amount to around $600,000.

 

The rest of the money will come from two sources: An increased parking fee for faculty and staff on campus, which was increased from $18 per month to $55, and a mortgage.

 

The mortgage will take advantage of the low interest rates Florizone was excited about.

 

“Okay,” Florizone said about the need for residences, “the market needs student housing. But why should the university do it? Well, to be competitive with other universities. It’s very important for recruitment.

 

“The other significant piece is retention – data show a strong correlation between living in on-campus housing and university success.”

 

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