The land has been blessed and construction is set to begin in the coming months on North Island College’s (NIC) first on-campus student residence.
The $77.2 million Student Housing Commons project will see the construction of two separate residence buildings near each other on the college’s Comox Valley Campus in Courtenay, B.C.
The building is aiming to reach a Step 4 energy code rating, the highest for commercial buildings in B.C., and will be made from mass timber. The college estimates the project will create 341 indirect and 229 direct jobs.
Construction is anticipated to begin in 2024 and reach substantial completion in 2025 with students moving in later that year.
Building designer HDR Architecture Associates, Inc. said the site has been carefully crafted with the input of Indigenous people to reflect the traditional history of the area and to welcome a diverse set of people to the campus.
The multi-faceted nature of human identity’s importance to the project was highlighted by Jay de Montarnal, project co-ordinator for the residence.
“Creating this new student housing at NIC means that we don’t have policies and procedures that are based on old ways of working,” Montarnal said in a release announcing their involvement in the project.
“We are not having to push against the way it has always been done which means we can create a space for all to feel safe and at home.”
The residence will be a first for NIC, whose students have previously had no choice but to live off campus and rent.
According to the college, 53 per cent of students come from within the NIC region, 49 per cent rent in order to attend school, 67 per cent of students report difficulty finding accommodations and 74 per cent say they would rather live on campus than off.
The project is being largely funded by a $65.9 million grant from the Government of British Columbia. It has also received $6.6 million from the BC Student Housing Loan Program and the college is providing at least $2 million.
Both buildings will be four storeys tall and offer a total of 217 beds ― 157 individual and 60 family-specific options. Rooms will range from two-bedroom family student housing to quad and studio apartments. Nine units have been designed to be accessible for people with disabilities and both buildings have interfaith rooms, a community garden, play areas and outdoor gathering space.
Member of the Legislative Assembly for Courtenay-Comox Ronna-Rae Leonard spoke about the lack of accommodations for students in the region.
“The Comox Valley has a 1.3 per cent vacancy rate, lower than Victoria or Vancouver. So many people and families who are investing in their studies through North Island College need rental housing,” Leonard said.
“This project will have such a positive impact on their learning experience and on housing availability for all residents.”
In total, the two buildings will equal about 106,000 square feet. The larger of the two buildings will contain 157 beds and the smaller 60. Construction is being overseen by Urban One Design Build Inc.
In January, the K’ómoks First Nation blessed the student housing site.
“The K’ómoks First Nation, NIC and the architects have worked collaboratively and looked at every aspect and detail of the Indigenous design, and we are very appreciative of this initiative,” said Nicole Rempel, chief of the K’ómoks First Nation.
“The K’ómoks First Nation is proud to invite students to our traditional territories to live and learn in such a wonderful community. We hope that this brings an opportunity for everyone to learn our K’ómoks culture.”
While there will be tree removals for construction, the college has committed to planting three trees for every two that are removed.
The project moved the province closer to meeting its goal of building 8,000 student beds across the province by 2028.
“With North Island College’s 217 new student beds, we are 97 per cent of the way towards reaching our goal,” said Selina Robinson, minister of post-secondary education and future skills, in a news release.