North Island College will soon be home to a housing complex on the Comox Valley campus for more than 200 students.
The provincial government announced support Friday for the college’s plan to build 217 student housing units. The project is estimated at $65.9 million. Of this, $57.3 million is government funding, $6.6 million comes from the B.C. Student Housing Loan Program and $2 million is from NIC.
“Today is a historic day for North Island College,” NIC president Lisa Domae said of the first housing project of any of its campuses. “Students more than ever need access to education and training.”
More than half of the students attending the Comox Valley campus come from other communities, she said, so the housing will support them while they are here for training.
“Half of the students who come to NIC rent,” she said. “They’re all looking for a place to live.”
NIC has about 8,000 students at its four campuses each year.
The plan is for the units to be ready for the fall of 2024. Of the 217 units, 157 will go to single students while 60 beds will be set aside for students with families. They will cover a range of student housing needs, with some coming for as long as four years, and others as short as eight weeks to complete apprenticeship programs.
“We have needed this housing for a very, very long time,” she said. “We know that the student demand is there.”
Part of the plan is to provide access to kitchen facilities for students. Another key priority identified by many students is a need for reliable wifi service.
The Housing Commons area will include four-storey buildings with a range of housing options, common areas, garden beds, an outdoor amphitheatre, an outdoor play zone and better pedestrian access to Ryan Road.
Timber use will be a key feature of the buildings, which will be located near green space on campus. It is also expected trades students could be helping with the work, for example, as part of red seal training.
“That is one of the most exciting things for us,” Domae said.
The NIC president was joined by Courtenay-Comox MLA Ronna-Rae Leonard for the announcement. The MLA said the announcement was part of her government’s commitment to providing more housing since 2017.
“Part of that commitment was building for post-secondary education,” she said. “With this project, we are now at 75 per cent completion.”
As she said, the project not only helps the campus community but the wider community when it comes to finding affordable housing.
“What it does is free up 217 units in [the] community,” she said. “This works for everybody.”
Leonard also stressed the importance of providing educational and training opportunities for people close to home.
“We know that when people are trained in their community, they will stay and help their communities grow,” she said. “North Island College is just a shining example.”
Student housing has been in the plans for NIC in recent years. It has been identified as a priority as part of the college’s Engage NIC process. As one student said on the Engage website, “Family housing would have allowed me and my family to live together while I was taking my carpentry program in the Comox Valley last fall.” One student who needed two months to find a room in house shared with five other people talked about the stress of finding a place while going to school, while another said housing will allow for making new friends while studying.
This student engagement process, Domae said, was important in developing the plan for housing on the campus.
“It has been developed with their input in terms of what they’re looking for,” she said. “It’s also been developed in consultation with the North Island student union.”
NIC is expected to issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) for the design-build project by the end of the month, with a team selected by spring.