Brescia OK’s plans for new residence

New Brescia residence


An artist’s rendering of the proposed new residence and dining pavilion places the new buildings between Brescia University College’s landmark, Ursuline Hall, far right, and the Mother St. James Memorial building on the far left. The construction is expected to begin in 2012 with occupancy by September 2013.

Built in 1926, Brescia University College’s Ursuline Hall is long overdue for an upgrade.

The regal castle-like building has been a beacon sitting atop the hill overlooking The University of Western Ontario’s main campus. But the residence, long the visual identity of the all-women’s university college, can no longer meet the needs of students living in it.

 “The reality is students now, in 2011, have much higher expectations around how they will live at university in a way that supports them in doing the best they can in school and the social aspect that goes with that,” says Colleen Hanycz, Brescia principal.

Brescia recently conducted an environmental scan of its campus, which identified areas of concern and sparked a full review of the buildings on-site. Both a new residence and dining hall topped the list as capital projects needing to be addressed.

Due to the building’s limitations, however, Ursuline Hall would be difficult to retrofit to accommodate accessibility needs, Hanycz explains.

The solution is to build a new low-rise complex behind Ursuline Hall to accommodate 300 students.

At a meeting on March 31, the Brescia Council of Trustees gave financial approval for the residence construction – an approximately $30 million project – to break ground in early 2012, with planned occupancy by September 2013.

Designs for the buildings are currently being developed.

“It is going to be definitely one of the most lovely residential spaces on the entire Western family of campuses,” Hanycz says.

The units will form an interior courtyard behind the current residence. As well, a dining pavilion with fresh, made-to-order food stations will be erected between the Beryl Ivey Library and the southern face of Ursuline Hall.

The new residence will have a series of units, each consisting of a number of single rooms with semi-en suite baths and common areas. In light of requests made by alumnae as well as current and prospective students, the new building will have large closets and window seats overlooking the grounds.

Ursuline Hall has 190 beds, and once the new residence is built, these will no longer be used. It was the original building on Brescia’s campus and housed classroom, office and residence space. With the new development, the existing residence building will be repurposed, but a plan has yet to be decided.

The timing appears right for the new buildings, as Brescia has set its sights on expansion.

This September Brescia projects to have 973 students. By the time of the opening of the residence, that number is expected to jump to 1,040. The all-women’s university college is hoping to recruit 1,200 full-time students by 2015. The new residence promises an additional 110 beds to accommodate the extra students, with some space for second- and third- year students.

Like Western’s main campus, Brescia offers a first-year residence guarantee.

“Our residence life program is so strong that there is a very significant number of students who want to return in their upper years,” Hanycz notes.

The environmental scan also raised issues about sustainability. To ensure its new facilities have a more sustainable footprint the construction will aim for a Green Globes designation, such as including a green roof on the dining pavilion.

To keep the community abreast of its plans, Brescia held a public meeting May 10 to discuss the new residence and solicit ideas about what should be included in the new buildings. Issues such as concerns about additional traffic in the area and relocating the western parking lot were addressed.

“It was a very positive meeting and we were very, very pleased with our neighbours’ wiliness to engage in this community-building process,” she says.