Ontario Construction News staff writer
As Brock University continues to attract record numbers of students, officials are looking to partner with private-sector developers to build more student residences close to campus and away from residential neighbourhoods.
In a report to the University’s Board of Trustees, president Gervan Fearon said Brock needs to find a cost-effective mechanism to provide more residences for students who do not want to live off-campus.
Brock is developing a plan where third-party companies may partner with the University to build residence buildings near the main campus or in downtown St. Catharines near Brock’s Marilyn I. Walker School of Fine and Performing Arts.
Brock is experiencing record enrolment for a third-consecutive year, along with increasing academic admission averages. Total enrolment this fall is nearly 19,800 students and the incoming first-year class is Brock’s largest ever.
Most students come from beyond the Niagara region, commonly the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area – too far away for commuting to class from home.
Like at most Ontario universities, the demand for residences at Brock outstrips supply. Brock has about 2,400 booked residence beds and will begin construction this week on a new 300-bed residence building on campus. There is a significant waiting list for students wanting to live on campus, and Fearon said there are more living off-campus who would prefer to live in a student residence close to classes.
“With the constant need for new teaching and research facilities, or just maintaining existing assets, universities are challenged to free up funding to start major construction projects for residences,” he said. “By partnering with the private sector, we can accelerate the process of meeting student needs and achieving the financial stewardship demanded of universities today.”
Fearon said Brock contributes more than $640 million to the local economy and that “our graduates are an important part of the talent pool that makes the region an attractive location for jobs and business investment.”
Scott Johnstone, senior associate vice-president, infrastructure and operations at Brock who oversees the university’s residences, said working with development partners also aligns with Brock’s goal of enhancing the student experience.
Having more capacity for middle or senior students directly enables them to mentor first-year students, he said.
Fearon said Brock has heard the community speak, and agrees it makes sense on all fronts to find ways to help students be closer to campus.
“We need to be part of the solution,” he said. “Creating student residence options also allows us to be a good community partner by taking some of the pressure off of the affordable housing needs of the region.”
“We are looking to potential private sector partners to be creative while developing solutions for meeting our student residence needs, including student experience expectations,” Fearon said.
“Our priority ask is for potential private sector partners to illustrate and describe in their response to this REI how they are aligned with and take into consideration the University’s vision, mission, strategic priorities and guiding values in any proposal.”
The school is hoping for a partnership to build a student residence with a minimum of 100 beds and spaces to support a safe, relaxing and collaborative environment while minimizing and/or eliminating any long-term maintenance requirements of the university.
“We remain open to new design, including floor plans and look to potential private sector partners to present and utilize leading practices. Any proposal for design should complement university architecture and the surrounding area,” Fearon said.
Respondents are asked to submit their information and signed respondent submission form by 3 p.m. on Nov. 14.