While physical distancing curbed campus activity, construction plans remain concrete

While the university slowly phases out of physical distancing restrictions, campus construction won’t see much of a change.

That’s because construction workers never stopped their work throughout the province’s COVID-19 physical distancing regulations.

Despite economic benefits, continued construction comes with concern over noise for neighbouring residents and health risks to workers themselves. As COVID-19 has created uncertainty for the construction industry, some markets have dropped below pre-pandemic levels.

But in BC, construction has continued as an essential service after Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry exempted industrial sites from rules prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people, calling them “less risky environments.”

On campus, construction along Student Union Boulevard has continued. According to Campus and Community Planning, the Pacific Residence project will create 1,000 beds for upper-year housing and 1,700 square metres of office space for student housing services. The building is set to be complete in August 2021.

Work along Wesbrook Mall is also ongoing, with upgrades from Agronomy Road to University Boulevard having begun on May 4.

Abhishek Aggarwal, a second-year Sauder student who lives in Exchange, said Pacific Residence construction impacted his study schedule.

“The construction noise was constantly coming throughout the exam terms. And because there were so many restrictions in the residence itself [due to COVID-19], I didn’t have any other choice than studying in my own room,” said Aggarwal. “I was forced to mostly stay up in the late night when the construction was already over and there was no noise coming up.”

While construction has created disturbances for students practicing physical distancing in their dorms, health concerns extend to construction workers as well.

Some BC construction workers have faced the choice of continuing work and risk contracting the virus or quitting and likely becoming ineligible for government income support, the Tyee reported.

In an emailed statement, Matthew Ramsey, UBC Media Relations director of university affairs, said that “UBC treats the health and safety of its community (including contractors) very seriously. All construction at UBC during COVID-19 is following health guidelines as set by the Provincial Health Office.”

Under the provincial guidelines — which were first posted on March 22 — all construction workers are expected to stay two metres apart “where possible” and work sites cannot have more than 50 people in the same space.

WorkSafeBC mandates that employers develop a safety plan to reduce COVID-19 risks among workers. UBC posted April 9 that university staff will “regularly” visit construction sites and that UBC has asked construction managers to produce these plans.

“UBC is working with our construction providers to assist them as required as they work to add much needed student housing,” said Ramsey.

A previous version of this article said Aggarwal was impacted by Gage construction. This has been updated to clarify that Aggarwal spoke about Pacific Residence construction.