Upscale housing takes over

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By Lee Richardson
News Editor

As Ryerson searches for a business partner to build new student housing with, some universities are resorting to converting old hotels, resulting in more luxurious surroundings for students living away from home.

With cities becoming denser and the numbers of student residence applications growing, universities may have to come to depend on utilizing existing buildings, such as hotels and apartment blocks, to accommodate more students.

“Toronto has a ton of old 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s apartment slab buildings which need a bit of reinvestment, and universities are in the perfect position to do that” said Spacing Magazine Senior Editor, Shawn Micallef. “These would make perfect student residences and they’d probably be nicer too, as they were built for families and would probably be a little bit bigger than the spaces that students now have.”

While post-secondary institutions in the U.S begin to invest in higher-end student housing facilities, which can then be rented out to tourists during summer periods, this trend is also happening locally. The University of Toronto converted one of their residences – the 688 room Chestnut building – from the Colony Hotel in 2003. The largest ‘Super Single’ rooms at Chestnut, which are converted double hotel rooms, are $14,600 for a year. They offer king and queens sized beds in every room, a fitness facility and a restaurant.

“We needed to come up with an alternative residence that could be available faster than through construction, so we bought a hotel and it’s been pretty successful ever since,” said University of Toronto Residence Services Coordinator Kate Milligan. “It’s rented out as hotel or a bed and breakfast during the summer, to tourists, conference attendees, language school students.”

As well as being seen at the University of Toronto, this process has also happened right on campus. The 252 capacity International Living and Learning Centre (ILLC) used to be a hotel before being acquisitioned by the university.

“Each of the rooms have a bathroom inside it, they’re just like old hotel rooms,” said Vice Provost Students, Heather Lane Vetere.

Meanwhile, Ryerson is still searching for companies interested in developing new student residence spaces.

“We approximately have 1,000 residence rooms and we’re receiving over three, four, five thousand requests, so we’re really short on residence space,” said Ryerson President Sheldon Levy, adding that making construction affordable by partnering with a private business is seen as one solution. “For us to buy the land, construct the residence, and then pretend that we can put the cost onto the monthly residence rents of students would never work,” said Levy.

Such public-private partnerships – that result in buildings that blend housing with other services like stores or offices – are seen as one solution to dealing with how to utilize the most of Toronto’s restricted space. In fact, such partnerships have already been seen at Ryerson.

“We could have never afforded the business school unless Best Buy and Canadian Tire occupied the ground floor,” said Levy. “The private sector made something that was not affordable, affordable.”

However, space constraints in downtown Toronto could mean that construction of new buildings could become much more difficult.

“Universities should come up with a more creative model, like with deals with condo developers, so developers building a 50 storey condo, a university goes in with them and 20 of those floors are student residences,” said Micallef. “Toronto is now at this point where people need to think of this creative urban mixing, that’s the only way you’d be able to live nearby campus, going upwards.”

Photo: Lindsay Boeckl

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