Orchard Commons welcomes first-years to mixed reviews

After two years of construction, Orchard Commons residence has opened and offers a home to 1,050 first years. Providing height and views previously inaccessible to most first-year students, the new residence building has been met with excitement. However, delays in the completion of construction has left some residents disgruntled.

 The new residence cost an estimated $125.9 million and accommodates 525 students in each of the two towers, which were named Bartlett and Braeburn. The residence features single rooms with connected bathrooms, similar to həm’ləsəm’ and q’ələχən Houses at Totem Park, and interconnected floors with a 270 degree view. Unlike Totem Park and Place Vanier, the other two residences exclusive to first-year students, Orchard Commons has up to 18 floors and offers an ocean view.

The opening of Orchard Commons means there are a total of 11,038 beds on the UBC campus, making the UBC Student Housing and Hospitality Services (SHHS) the largest student housing operation of any university in Canada.

Orchard Commons has proven to be so popular that students like Andra Macdae, a student in the faculty of science who is currently residing in Place Vanier, want to switch in order to have more privacy and enjoy the good view.

“Everyone wants to switch to Orchard Commons … the buildings have more levels and people in general love to be on top of the world. Not that I hate Vanier, but some people prefer more privacy in doing things like shower,” said Macdae.

Perks aside, some students have expressed discontent at the fact that the residence has not been completely constructed. The commons block and dining hall have yet to be completed, and students have noted that the three elevators are inefficient and tend to break down.

“We expected basically everything to be done, like the commons block ... and the gym. All the other residences have their own, so that’s one problem. The floor lounges too are not quite finished yet,” said Nika Moeini, treasurer to the Orchard Commons Residence Association.

Aside from these, the main entrance to Orchard Commons has yet to be completed and there are booth seats yet to be installed in its dining hall. Some informal study spaces and public spaces — including an event space for residents — are still under construction. A high-end café named Hiro Café is also due to be opened once Orchard Commons is fully complete.

According to Andrew Parr, the managing director for SHHS, these deficiencies arise from Orchard Commons serving several purposes that need simultaneous attention. He specifically noted three — student housing, academic spaces and amenities supporting the entire campus community. 

The multiple purposes of Orchard Commons partially arose because the buildings were initially meant to house solely international students in Vantage College. A lack of housing for more general students led to the space being opened up to first-years from varying backgrounds. Orchard Commons will provide administrative and classroom spaces for Vantage College students as well as accommodation.

Overall, Parr asserted that the housing team is working through a plan to ensure the occupied building is safe for students, while completing any remaining amenity items and resources. 

“[It is] not unusual ... in the business of construction to have things delayed. Is it ideal? I would say no, but it is a reality of the situation,” said Parr.

“It is a beautiful facility … that's countered in the short term by a few outstanding construction pieces,” said Parr.

Over the next six weeks, Parr expects all remaining construction at Orchard Commons to be complete and all student complaints to have been attended to.