SFU to expand Burnaby residence

The plan includes five different phases to implemented over the next 20 years. - Photo courtesy of SFU Residence and Housing

SFU has laid out an ambitious program for the growth of its Burnaby campus residences. The new Residence and Housing Master Plan 2015–35 spans 20 years and will double capacity on Burnaby Mountain, considerably reshaping the structure of the residence community.

The 75-page report provides a five phase construction program that will raise the number of residence beds from 1,554 to 3,250 over the next 20 years through seven new buildings and an expanded dining hall.

Consultation on the Master Plan is open indefinitely, with opportunities for students to make their voices heard over email and in person. The last of four open houses will be held on Wednesday Dec. 2 between 12 and 2 p.m.

This transition includes the creation of two-story ‘living-rooms’ for the towers, the relocation of the Simon Hotel, and the consolidation of Residence and Housing’s offices and facilities.

The progressive demolition of Louis Riel House, Madge Hogarth House, and the Cowichan House townhouse block is planned to allow space for new buildings. Another portion of the plan is accommodated in the surface lot behind the towers, and the hilly forested area north of that lot.

The plan maintains the key east-west pedestrian axis of the original Erickson & Massey campus design.

In addition the plan intends to create the “ideal residence community” based on student surveys, with a variety of housing options. Currently options for living in residence consist of two varieties of single dorm rooms, four-person townhouses, and studios for graduate students.

The new plan includes the potential for single and double occupancy units, as well as suites, semi-suites, studios, and apartment units. These expansions are proposed to take place in an incremental fashion, with an initial focus on expanding first year residence capacity before moving on to upper year and graduate students.

This focus is the result of a disproportionately higher demand for first year housing — a demand that has the potential to put pressure on housing availability and push out upper year residents. Currently, SFU is unlike other universities in that it can be extremely difficult for students to remain on residence beyond first year due to high housing demand.

Through the provision of this plan, the university is presenting a drastic change in the direction for residence growth. It has been 11 years since the dining hall and towers were built, a project which itself was preceded by a near 12-year gap with Hamilton House and the townhouses. The Shell, Louis Riel, and Madge Hogarth residences date back to the beginnings of SFU.

Residence is not addressed in detail in either the 2010 Burnaby Mountain Campus development plan or the 2015–2020 SFU five year capital plan. According to Tim Rahilly, Associate VP Students, the Residence Master Plan would be utilized to fill in these gaps and update the university’s plans as it develops. Each step of the Master Plan requires additional examination, budgeting, planning, and approval through university administration.

Development for the Residence and Housing Master plan began in 2013 after the  residence’s budgetary crisis several years ago. One of the initial options explored at that point was the partial or complete privatization of the SFU residences. This idea gained traction in 2005 and was discussed for half a decade before being ultimately discarded. 

According to Tracey Mason-Innes, the director of SFU’s Residence and Housing, the plan presents a change and an acknowledgement by the university that “if we’re committing to residence, then we need to think and plan about how we should do it.” Despite the 20-year timeframe set out in the Master Plan, Mason-Innes described it as a growing plan that has to be revisited as circumstances change and new buildings are opened.

Rahilly commented on the future of family housing on campus, saying that it is a continuing conversation with UniverCity that he hopes will yield information by late spring on the potential provision of family housing in that area.

Beyond new construction, Mason-Innes noted the importance of maintaining existing facilities. Mctaggart-Cowan Hall is scheduled to begin renovations this summer and will be the last building to be updated.

According to Mason-Innes, feedback to the plan has so far been positive. With the proposed two-story ‘living rooms’ for the residence towers being a strong point.

Mason-Innes was pleased with the response to the proposed living rooms: “It’s the first step, and something that could be done quite easily in comparison.”

Residents have raised concerns about the removal of the surface parking lot north of the towers. However, the concern is more about the potential effect of its removal, and not around existing demand for parking spaces.

Aside from physical changes, the plan will have a ripple effect on how residence is structured, from delivery of services, to community programming, and residence orientation.