Shovels are about to go in the ground for a new, purpose-built, student-only apartment building in downtown Prince George, B.C., touted as a key ingredient for reinvigorating and revitalizing the city’s core.
The six-storey, wood-framed structure has been in the works for years, but council recently approved a site-specific zoning amendment for the property at 1404 Patricia Blvd., enabling the project to proceed.
The building, being developed by Kelowna-based Faction Projects for River City Ventures, is next to the Courtyard Marriott hotel and across from Prince George Public Library. The development will consist of about 200 self-contained micro-units which are less than 29 square metres, or 312 square feet.
Target date for completion of the project is summer 2021 with occupancy expected in September of that year.
Tim McLennan, director of design and operations at Faction Projects, said the structure — the fifth for the company in B.C. – will be made of wood because it fits the bill and the province has an abundance of it.
We’ve pre-fabbed our previous projects and wood is a great material to panelize and pre-fab,
— Tim McLennan
“B.C. obviously promotes wood and the scale of the building lends itself to wood,” he says. “We, as a firm, are a big proponent of wood. Cross-laminated timber has been on the leading edge of mass timber since its inception and we use mass timber as part of our structures. We’re used to working with it.
“Wood is an economical material to build with, especially in Prince George, and it fits with the local socio-economic situation.”
Panels and modules for the building will be prefabricated off-site, then trucked in and assembled at the location.
“We’ve pre-fabbed our previous projects and wood is a great material to panelize and pre-fab,” says McLennan.
Faction Projects chose downtown because the city wants to increase density in the area. There are also bus stops nearby that enable students to get to the University of Northern B.C. and College of New Caledonia.
“By putting it there it’s bringing this vibrant category of people into the area who can take advantage of the amenities,” says McLennan.
Other similar developments built by Faction Projects in the province were smaller at four storeys high because that was what the building code allowed for projects made of wood. The company was able to go two storeys higher on the Prince George structure because the building code was amended in 2018.
“We wanted to go as high as we could to get the density up in a single building,” explains McLennan. “Our other projects are multi-phase, multi-building.”
The units are specifically designed for students and, while they are small, studio-type apartments, they will all have full kitchens and bathrooms. The building will also have a lot of amenities and an abundance of study space, lounges and a weight room, the types of perks that are important to students.
The building itself will be a rectangular-shaped structure with a flat roof and a main facade that has a wavy or undulating appearance. There will be a number of wood and architectural features to add visual effect, such as a cantilevered approach on some of the units. Several apartments will have balconies.
McLennan says developers and designers put a lot of thought into the design and had to balance purpose with aesthetics. Parking allotments had to be incorporated into the overall design. Entrances to the building will also fully accessible to the handicapped and units can be converted for the disabled.
Because downtown Prince George is in a floodplain, half the parking area will be underground and the other half will be at grade.
“We had to raise the main floor of the building so it has to be out of the flooplain and so our parking is kind of half in, half out,” says McLennan.
The developer sought and received a variance for fewer parking spots than normal for such a building because students usually require less space for vehicles.
Scott Bone, CEO of the Northern Regional Construction Association (NRCA), is pleased the project is going ahead as it will help rejuvenate the downtown.
The developer has indicated it intends to employ as many local journeymen as possible on the project and has reached out and asked for a list of local trades, he says.
“The Faction Group has been very supportive of NRCA and we have provided them information about our members in the local construction industry so that they can reach out to them from a bidding perspective. They’ve been very engaging and very supportive of the local trades and contracting community.”
While there’s plenty of work for trades in B.C. just now, Bone says the project will enable them to work locally rather than have to travel distances to other jobsites.
“There has been a significant increase in projects in our area that’s really stretched the labour market in Prince George and our surrounding areas,” he says, noting there have been reports of project delays due to manpower shortages which will only get worse as a result of Site C, LNG, and pipeline expansion projects.
“The whole labour issue within the province is a major concern for our industry, particularly in the northern regional area where all the major projects are happening.”