The University of British Columbia’s Vancouver campus typically sees an annual waitlist of 6,000 people for its on-campus student residences, but COVID-19 has forced the university to slow down of one of its largest upcoming capital projects that would significantly increase student housing supply.
Earlier this week during a meeting, UBC Associate Vice President of Facilities John Metras told the university’s board of governors that the second phase of Brock Commons — a mixed-use development with student housing and institutional uses — is on a temporary hold due to the current financial uncertainties.
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The project is planned for the east side of the intersection of East Mall and Walter Gate Road — an 18-storey north tower on the open grassy area and ground-level parking next to Allard School of Law, and a 13-storey south tower replacing the Brock Hall Annex.
This second phase of Brock Commons carries an estimated construction cost of $156 million.
“It would be prudent to wait until we have a little bit of a better picture of the path forward given the COVID situation. The plan is to put the project on hold,” said Metras, noting that the project’s timeline will be reevaluated in about six months.
Early in the planning stages, Brock Commons was originally set to commence construction in Spring 2020 for completion in Fall 2020.
In the meantime, university staff will continue their work with advancing the project’s final detailed design work and tendering so that it can be shovel-ready. The north tower’s design process is entirely complete, and in April over 80% of its construction tenders closed. Some design work still needs to be completed for the south tower, along with tendering the construction work early this summer.
With this recommended approach, the board of governors approved a $1 million funding request to complete the design work and begin the decommissioning of Brock Annex ahead of future construction. Metras explained it is important to complete the design work as soon as possible to reduce the risk of additional costs in the future and the risk of design team members being reallocated to other projects.
The north tower of Brock Commons will be dedicated to student housing, while the south tower will see a wide range of uses.
The lower half of the south tower will be dedicated to food services, classrooms and other academic spaces for the law school and Faculty of Arts, various new offices for university administration and student services, meeting rooms, and an accommodated exams centre. Additional student housing will be located within the top half of this building.
Altogether, both towers — designed by HCMA Architecture + Design — will contain a combined total of about 600 beds and 325,000 sqft of floor area.
During the same meeting, the board of governors also provided their final approval for the three-storey UBC Arts Student Centre, located at the northeast corner of the intersection — immediately adjacent to the north tower.
The $10.8-million project will provide Faculty of Arts students, the largest faculty at the campus, with a new dedicated 10,700-sq-ft space for studying, socializing, and events.
Designed by Leckie Studio Architecture + Design, it is a circular-shaped building, with meeting rooms, multi-purpose rooms, and the new offices for the Arts Undergraduate Society organized around a central atrium.
Arts students approved a new faculty student centre in a referendum held in 2013, with student fees now set to cover $5.8 million of the cost. The remainder will be covered by the Faculty of Arts and the university administration.
But the new student centre could see increased costs if the south tower of Brock Commons Phase Two is delayed for more than 10 to 12 months.
“There will be an impact related to site service requirements for both the Brock Commons 2 development and the adjacent Arts Student Centre development that were carried together (for efficiency) within the Brock 2 project scope,” reads a UBC staff report.
“Should Brock Commons 2 not proceed within that timeframe, there will be a need to fund those site services through alternative means to allow the Arts Student Centre to complete construction.”
Nearby at the northwest corner of the intersection of Student Union Boulevard and Wesbrook Mall, construction is quickly progressing on the Pacific Residence — approximately 1,000 beds for upper year students distributed across five new buildings on the underutilized lands of the Gage Residence. Construction on the $165-million development is expected to reach completion in 2021.