On February 3, committee members from the UBC and Kelowna community connected for a meeting to discuss updates on the UBC Downtown Kelowna Project.
To provide some context, in November 2019, the Property Committee supported “UBC Properties Trust in completing a land deal for a UBC presence in downtown Kelowna with space made available for academic expansion and UBC affiliated rental housing.”
This project will not only help address UBCO’s space shortage, but it will also expand academic experience downtown by building on off-campus programs such as the Southern Medical program campus, and more. According to the executive summary submitted to the Property Committee, the “key focus of the academic component of the project is to situate community facing programs and activities in the city centre, with proximity to the burgeoning technology, culture and health precinct, in accordance with the agreement between the City of Kelowna and UBC with respect to the disposition of a portion of the UBCO West Campus lands.” In June 2020, UBCO and the City of Kelowna announced that the building will be used for mixed-use development with assured significant UBCO presence.
As of the approval of the Downtown Kelowna land deal in 2019, UBC Properties Trust (UBCPT) has entered into an agreement with Mission Group. Collectively, these two groups own the 550 Doyle Street Site with project consultants working on the design and preparation of the site. Furthermore, this mixed-use space will also include approximately 80,000 square feet of academic space, 20,000 additional feet for additional expansion, and perhaps a clinic.
To aid the UBC Properties Trust, UBC staff will also be coordinating planning for the academic portion of the downtown site, such as helping in the space planning processes. The Committee aiding in this expansion has stated that design is likely to continue through the summer of 2022 (the schematic design is already completed). Construction, which starts in the fall of 2022, will be completed by January 2025. In the meantime, before the design stage ends and construction begins, a vacant building at 550 Doyle Street will open a shelter of about 40 beds for homeless people, run by the Kelowna Gospel Mission.
There are many implications for this site besides just much needed academic space. This space is also going to aid in student experiential learning and will promote engagement with the community in Kelowna. Some of the academic programs that are proposed for downtown are more so community-based programs such as Faculties of Health and Social Development, Management, and Creative and Critical Studies. This site will also include research spaces, meeting rooms, and other amenities for the development of an academic community.
In addition, some other benefits offered include providing teaching and research space for “space-challenged UBCO units”, it also provides more space at the main UBCO campus for the other units, and it creates a presence for UBCO in downtown Kelowna. This site will create new opportunities for students and community members to access what UBC has to offer and it creates opportunities for greater local Indigenous engagement.
However, no project is without its risks. Within the executive summary, it is stated that due to the ensuing pandemic, the current construction market is unpredictable at the moment. Demand for academic programs and student enrolment may also be impacted by COVID-19. As expansion space is dependent on student demands, this could potentially impact the project.
Despite these risks, this project may greatly benefit students who are troubled by limited study and research space, as well it provides more experience with community engagement—a significant experience to have at times. Therefore, it is commendable of UBCO to begin constructing an off-campus site as academic space is a much-needed resource on a continuously growing campus.