Crane and crowbars: Construction on campus

Construction sites, their towering cranes and the clouds of dust that rise when the ground dries in the summer are a constant part of UBC Point Grey’s ever-shifting landscape. Right now, there are 30 projects currently in stages of development ranging from the application process to full-scale construction.

But how do these projects gain approval for construction, and what does the future hold for these gridiron skeletons once the plaster and linoleum is laid? Let The Ubyssey walk you through the development journey from application to opening date and look at a few higher profile projects on campus.

The Development Process

From small-scale renovations to towering residence blocks, every construction project for institutional buildings on campus begins with the Facilities Planning Group.

“They work with faculties and departments and vice-presidents’ portfolios to try and understand their facilities’ needs,” said Associate VP Facilities John Metras. “And once we’ve identified what those needs are, we have a capital planning process to prioritize those needs and determine funding sources for the projects.”

Once projects are chosen and funding ensured, the group obtains approval from the UBC Facilities Executive, establishing the scale, scope and budget along the way. When a proposed project’s budget reaches over $5 million, it requires approval from UBC’s Board of Governors.

Once approval is secured, the group moves into the architect selection process and the design stage with the help of UBC Campus + Community Planning which conducts consultations and surveys of student, staff and faculty on the new development and general schematics.

After an outline for development is drafted, the Board of Governors reviews the project once more and Campus + Community Planning issues a development permit. When designs are completed, the Board issues final approval for projects over 5 million dollars. Then, and only then, is ground broken onsite.

“It’s a pretty long process,” said Metras, “to get to the point where we’re actually initiating construction on the building. [The projects you see on campus] have gone through a process of probably three to four years of planning, design [and] permitting.”

Director of Planning, Development Services Grant Miller also made the distinction between two key types of development projects on campus.

“[Capital projects are] projects supporting the academic mission fundamentally, from academic teaching spaces, ancillary [and] recreational [spaces] and student housing,” he said.

Distinct from this category are non-institutional projects like condos and apartments not allocated to student housing in the neighborhoods in and around campus.

“[Non-institutional] projects happen much more the way it would happen in a municipality, where I act as the municipal authority issuing a permit,” said Miller. “That means the proposal comes more directly to me by way of a developer … or UBC Properties Trust. Largely it’s housing.”

Now that we have a working familiarity with the steps that they’ve taken to break ground in the first place, let's take a closer look at just a few of the many capital projects underway on campus.

Gateway Building

Perhaps the most conspicuous project currently under construction on campus, the Gateway Building sits on the northwest corner of Wesbrook Mall and University Boulevard. With a project budget of $189.91 million, the Gateway Building’s 25,135 square metres will provide a new home for the School of Nursing and the Faculty of Kinesiology.

True to its name, the Gateway Building is also intended to serve as a visual introduction to the Point Grey campus for visitors entering along University Boulevard and to “express the university’s identity and values,” according to UBC Facilities’ webpage on the project.

The building will house new facilities including four large lecture theatres and a simulation lab. It will also host the “Team-Based Primary Care Inter-professional Teaching Clinic,” a new campus clinic aimed at training future UBC health graduates.” The Gateway Building is scheduled for occupancy in Fall 2024.

School of Biomedical Engineering

A couple hundred metres across University Boulevard from the future site of the Gateway Building, the scaffolding from the School of Biomedical Engineering Building hangs low above the sidewalk. With an area of 14,520 square metres and a budget of $139.4 million, the new building was designed to accommodate the swiftly growing School of Biomedical Engineering (SBME) which was formed in 2017.

The SBME Building will feature classrooms, teaching and research labs and offices and administrative space. Its close proximity to the Biomedical Research Centre, the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Applied Sciences will hopefully facilitate easy dialogue between their related fields. The SBME building is scheduled for occupancy in late 2024 and will open to students and faculty in 2025.

Student Recreation Centre North

With a budget of $65.535 million, the Student Recreation Centre North is currently under construction at the end of Student Union Boulevard beside the Life Building. The project was approved via student referendum in 2017 and is projected to increase the total fitness space available to students from the current level of around 1,500 square metres, currently provided by the ARC and BirdCoop fitness centres, to over 8,000 square metres.

The Recreation Centre will house facilities including a gymnasium, fitness centre and running track, along with meeting rooms and administrative offices. According to UBC Facilities’ webpage on the project, “the design of the new centre has focused on creating a low-barrier space and has prioritized accessibility and inclusion.” The Centre is scheduled for occupancy in late 2024.