Plans approved for new residence

Construction of a new 1,000-bed student residence at The University of Western Ontario was given the green light by the Board of Governors Thursday, June 23.

Following reports of a surging first-year class size – more than 5,100 new students are expected in September – building approval for a new residence couldn’t come soon enough. The growing incoming class is putting pressure on the current residence system to accommodate students taking advantage of the first-year residence guarantee.

“I think the need for additional housing is so apparent now, with a lot of support I think the board did the right thing,” says Susan Grindrod, associate vice-president, Housing & Ancillary Services.

“Based on the process we’ve been through to get to this day, and certainly based on the enrolment numbers for this year, I think the board was satisfied in terms of our due diligence,” she adds.

The new residence will be built on the Althouse College north parking lot, south of Sarnia Road and west of Western Road.

The board was presented with layout designs of the five-storey building. It will be a hybrid design, similar to Perth Hall, with a combination of single and double rooms occupying three wings, adjoined by common space, including a health and wellness centre. The building will also include single rooms and apartments to be used by visiting scholars and graduate students.

Western is aiming for a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for the building, the first among Western’s residences.

A budget of close to $90 million is projected, based on prior residence projects at the university. “It’s expensive, but it’s also a very large building. The university builds high-quality buildings of good construction and good materials that last a long time,” Grindrod says.

With the board approval, the final details of the design will be completed and the university will tender bids for construction companies. Crews are expected to break ground this fall, with the residence slated to open in September 2013.

Housing & Ancillary Services held a community meeting in April and with the community’s support, plans are moving ahead. Getting the board’s approval is the final step in the preparations for construction.
The project will create about 20 architectural/engineering jobs and 400 construction jobs in the City of London over the next two years.

The new building will allow Western to continue its guarantee of accommodations for first-year student. It will also provide 15 per cent capacity for upper-year students.

“I think we all think first-year students benefit greatly from being in residence,” she says. “A lot of data says students who get engaged in the community and connected to the services and to what’s at the university, they do better.”

Currently, Western’s residences are bulging at the seams.

In order to accommodate all first-year students wanting to live in residence, London Hall, normally an upper-year undergraduate residence, will house predominantly first-year students until the new residence is built.

“What’s clear here is even at the 4,350, we were at capacity most years,” she says. “This year is a very good example of our (recruitment) success and it’s a good problem to have. However, what it means is unfortunately we are not able to accommodate a lot of upper-year students.

“We know that they very much appreciate the residence experience as well.”

“Our first-year residence guarantee initiative is very important to the University’s ability to attract and retain the best and the brightest students,” says Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President (Resources & Operations). “Our residences provide many important benefits for our students, including social connections; opportunities to become involved in programs and activities that support academic studies and personal growth; and convenient access to classes and campus facilities.”

For the last eight years, Western’s student residences have consistently ranked at the top in the Globe and Mail University Report Card, achieving the only ‘A’ among large institutions.

The last student residence Western built was London Hall, which was completed in 2006 and, prior to that, Perth Hall in 2003.