$189-million Gateway building will house health facilities, delay space for counselling services

The first stage of the University Gateway project has been approved by UBC’s Board of Governors (BoG).

Situated at the intersection of Wesbrook Mall and University Boulevard — a “gateway” that many students pass as they commute to campus — the proposed building will provide a permanent space for UBC’s new Integrated Student Health Services (ISHS), UBC Health and the Schools of Nursing and Kinesiology.

According to a report presented to the Board on December 5, ISHS is meant to consolidate all of UBC’s medical and counselling facilities into a “central point of contact for students to access primary health care.”

An “institutional consortium,” UBC Health facilitates collaboration among UBC’s many faculties and schools that conduct medical research.

The School of Nursing has been located in temporary locations for almost 40 years while the School of Kinesiology has been distributed across numerous locations on campus. The new building will serve a long-term home to both.

But beyond its various practical uses, University Gateway is also intended to serve as a “welcoming,” visually engaging first entrance to campus that will “signify a world class university.”

In an interview with The Ubyssey, UBC Associate VP Facilities John Metras said his team has explored including a “commitment to the Musqueam people” in the building’s design. They plan to collaborate with a Musqueam artist who will be selected through consultation with the Musqueam Indian Band.

University Gateway will also integrate sustainability features to minimize its carbon footprint, such as the use of treated wood in its design as opposed to concrete and metal.

But Dr. Charles Menzies, a faculty representative on the BoG is, is concerned that the building is a part of a trend of rapid development on campus that will only cause environmental harm.

“The practical impact of construction is because of the economic model to hire contractors, builders, suppliers,” he said. “… The project itself isn’t the concern, it’s the process of building and the emissions introduced by the particular methods employed in the construction process.”

Menzies said that the Board’s recent progress committing to divestment from fossil fuels does little to address the cumulative carbon footprint of campus expansion and emphasized the need for deeper engagement on the topic of emissions.

Pending several phases of Board approval, University Gateway is slated to begin construction in January 2022 and finish in July 2024.

Money and time

The project’s initial estimate of $134 million approved by the BoG had increased to $189.9 million when it was presented in December, raising concerns from a number of governors.

“I would really hope that the university comes back to the Board of Governors with a plan that more accurately reflects the costs that were originally intended for this building,” said Julia Burnham, AMS VP academic and university affairs. “[An] over $50 million cost increase — ultimately, at the end of the day, a lot of that will come to burden students so I think that’s a huge red flag …”

But Metras defended the price and pointed out that it’s subject to change.

“The project cost previously given did not take into account various factors that the revised estimate gives a more accurate representation of,” said Metras. “… There is potential for change in the projected cost and consultation will continue to be had.”

Some of the cost increase can be attributed to the how the building has been expanded to include the ISHS centre, which was originally planned to be incorporated into Brock Commons in 2022.

While integrating health services can be beneficial in the long run, Burnham thinks the increased construction time is cause for concern, especially because it means Counselling Services will have to wait an additional two years before it gets a permanent location in 2024.

BoG Vancouver student representative Max Holmes noted that UBC Counselling is already dispersed across several facilities due to overflow.

In addition to its headquarters at Brock Hall, the office has been operating out of Orchard Commons and construction is still underway for a temporary modular building next to Brock Hall that will serve students’ increasing demand for counselling until Gateway is completed.

But student advocates pointed out this is not the first time finding a permanent home for Counselling Services has been kicked down the road.

“The old SUB [now the Life Building] when it was being renovated was where Integrated Health was supposed to go, and so we’ve seen continuous delays of this project,” said Holmes. “Over time, many students who are in their first year right now are not going to see these services delivered until they graduate or [are] in their final year.”

Metras responded that the extra space in Orchard Commons and the modular building, along with UBC Hospital, should fill any gaps in service.

The Board will discuss an update on Integrated Student Health Services and University Gateway at its People, Community & International Committee meeting on February 5.