Selkirk College is making a pitch to the provincial government for more student housing in Castlegar and Nelson.
College president Angus Graeme told Castlegar city council last week it’s applied for support for a $25 million construction project that would see up to 150 new beds for students.
“We have made a case we think is quite powerful, that affordable student housing in Castlegar and Nelson is in short supply,” Graeme told the Castlegar News. “And we are growing as an institution. So the existing facilities are full, and no longer able to keep up with demand.”
The project would see a 110-unit building in Castlegar, and 40-bed unit at the Silver King campus in Nelson. For flexibility, the college has also submitted a scaled-back version of the project, with just 75 beds in Castlegar and 25 in Nelson.
Graeme says housing is becoming a bottleneck to the institution’s growth.
“One thing that concerns us, students are choosing now to cancel coming to the college, because they can’t find housing here,” he says.
“It’s not that we don’t have affordable tuition, or a great college, or great programs, but it’s because they can’t find a place to stay.”
Graeme says the Nelson portion of the project is unique, in that it would target apprentices coming to the college for one or two-month stays, a particularly difficult arrangement for students to find in Nelson.
A new housing facility on the Castlegar campus would help that site reach a critical mass for new services.
“It would really feed expansion of a student village, create more facilities for students so they’re not always needing to go off-campus,” he says. “So when you are increasing capacity to 200 beds, then you can put up other activities and services for students on site.”
Building student housing would also benefit the overall community, Graeme notes.
“If this project is approved, it would have important ripple benefits to the community, as it would free up housing options for non-students,” he says. “There’d be more housing for people moving to the area to work, and so forth.”
The college hadn’t intended to speak publicly about the project yet, but the issue came up when Graeme was giving a debrief on the college’s plans to the newly installed Castlegar city council. He says while the plans are exciting, they are still very much in the early stages.
“Right now it is an artist’s rendering and more financial and capacity-forecasting,” he says. “And this isn’t a complete grant request. We have to develop a financial forecast that works for us. It involves us borrowing money. So we have to develop something we can afford and something we think the province will look favourably at.”
He says the college has made its initial applications to the province, and is hoping to hear from Victoria sometime in the summer.
Once that piece is known, they can move on to design and further development of the idea.
“I honestly think we have a very good proposal, because the Kootenay-Boundary region is growing,” he says. “Our institution is growing. We have low unemployment right now in the region, and some great things happening, so housing becomes a real crunch.”
While it’s the start of a multi-year project, Graeme doesn’t see the need going away anytime soon.
“We don’t see Selkirk College shrinking in the future. It’s going to continue to grow, and successful institutions always have at least fairly robust on-campus student housing plans in place,” he says. “It’s only so far you can go with local rental markets.”