As part of the SHHS Appreciation BBQ on August 30, we held a brief Q & A—at which SHHS staff could ask Louise Cowin, VP, Students, or me about things that interest them in SHHS, the VP Students Portfolio, or at UBC. My thanks to those of you who asked questions live at the event. Here we’ve answered questions that were sent to us by SHHS staff in advance! – Andrew Parr, Managing Director, Student Housing and Hospitality Services
Q: There are a lot of projects happening across SHHS at any given time. I notice that when those projects are delayed it has an impact on our operations. Can you explain why these project delays occur and what we can all do to decrease the impact across SHHS?
A: Great question! We are very good at managing our smaller capital improvement projects within pre-determined schedules and with little adverse impact on operations or our customer base—students, faculty, staff, and visitors.
Having said that, there has definitely been a trend with our new developments (Marine Drive Residence, Ponderosa Commons Phase 1 and 2, and most recently, Orchard Commons). These are large and complex projects. It is, unfortunately, common in the marketplace for projects of this scope to run into schedule challenges as they approach completion. Outside a university setting these delays are frustrating but not necessarily critical. At a university—where the start of school is a fixed date—students need to move into housing on a set date and will need to access amenities such as food and child care services. This sort of hard deadline puts added pressure on a project and often results in what I fondly call a “rough landing.” In other words, it presents a challenging and very tight transition from construction to occupancy and operations.
Each project we undertake gives us an opportunity to learn and adapt our processes for future projects. Nevertheless, each project is unique—and our reliance on external service providers (general contractors, construction, trades, etc.) means many things that impact a project’s schedule are outside of our control.
Q: Is there a specific area you hope to improve in the next year? Why?
A: We are really good at what we do, in all areas. Survey results show this. When I have the opportunity to visit other university campuses and see what they are doing, I often return with some new and interesting ideas, but I also come back refreshed in knowing that our services really are second to none in Canada—and rival the best schools across North America. Of course, we are always interested in improving our services any way that we can. Here are a few examples of the projects that are currently underway:
- Catering: We are currently rebranding our catering group, Wescadia Catering, with an emphasis on enhanced service and business growth.
- Student Residences: Acadia Park and Thunderbird residences are currently undergoing facility enhancements that will improve the quality of life for our residents.
- Capital Projects: With so many new projects, we are always trying to improve the process through which projects transition from construction to operations.
- Elevators: One major frustration that many of us at UBC face is elevator shutdowns. To mitigate the impact of elevator shutdowns, we are developing improved maintenance contracts with the companies who install and service elevators in our buildings.
These are just a few of the key areas that are top of mind, but we are always trying to improve our services and processes across all areas and wherever possible. If you think of anything that could be improved, make sure let us know!
Q: How much debt does SHHS carry?
A: It’s important to preface this answer by noting that our current growth is unprecedented and growth like this has a price tag. SHHS does not receive a subsidy or funding from external sources; one hundred percent of our budget comes from revenue for the services we provide. Additionally, we are responsible for the mortgages associated with new developments and our capital projects. Our current debt load, including the mortgage for Orchard Commons, is nearly $500 million. That is a substantial debt, but reasonable considering the demand for growth in areas like on-campus housing and campus amenities. UBC continues to support our current growth strategy and we continue to effectively manage our finances, with 34.6% of our revenue directed towards repayment.
Q: I’ve heard that we are short-staffed in Food Services. What are we doing about that and how can I help?
A: The opening of Open Kitchen at Orchard Commons this summer put an extra burden on the annual hiring process this year. In early August we had 80 vacant positions to fill—an unprecedented need. We are still hiring for positions in Food Services, mostly for culinary positions in the residence dining rooms, including cooks and GWHs.
We’re always interested in referrals, so staff across SHHS can definitely help. As an incentive to staff, we have a new employee referral program for Food Services. How the program works is if you refer someone and they get hired, you get a $50 gift card to the UBC Bookstore. Once the person you referred reaches 90 days of employment, you receive a second $50 UBC Bookstore gift card.
Q: What do you see as the future of the UBC residence community?
A: Growth. We know that demand continues to exceed our supply, despite recent housing additions, and we know that resident students have a better overall campus experience and are more engaged and connected to student life than commuter students. With the growth we’ve experienced and with more to come, UBC is well positioned to provide a variety of unique and innovative housing options. In particular, there is demand and opportunity for providing additional year-round housing options, which also helps to create year round vibrancy on campus.
Q: We keep building more buildings, but we still have a substantial waitlist for student housing. Why is that?
A: There are a few key factors that result in a continued waitlist for on-campus housing:
- The Lower Mainland real estate and rental market is having a distinct impact on UBC students’ ability to find off-campus housing. With the increasing cost of rental housing, particularly in Vancouver, many students are seeking on-campus housing opportunities.
- The growth of international student enrolment at UBC is another significant factor. There is a high demand from this group of students for on-campus housing. Ninety-two percent of international students live in residence in their first year at UBC and 70% seek on-campus housing for the remainder of their time at UBC.
- Student satisfaction is a major factor affecting the demand for on-campus housing. In other words, “success begets success.” Students can really see the benefits of living in on-campus student housing and the many ways that it enhances their student experience. With nearly 11,000 student beds—and an increased number of year-round residences and on-campus amenities—UBC has transformed into a much more vibrant community 24/7 and 365 days a year.
We are addressing the demand for on-campus housing with a thoughtful and aggressive growth strategy. Last year we opened the successful Ponderosa Commons; we have just opened Orchard Commons—including Open Kitchen, a third residence dining room; in Summer 2017 we will be opening Brock Commons, an innovative tall wood building, and a new building at Totem Park; and in 2019, we will be opening Gage South (Exchange Residence), a unique student residence that will contain our innovative Nano Studios. This fall we will be looking closely at our growth needs beyond 2019.
Q: Did anyone from the SHHS management team work on Move In Day?
A: A vast majority of the SHHS leadership team and their reporting managers helped out on Move In Day. Move In Day is a critical part of the new student experience and every one of us is keen to participate in making a great first impression for students and their families.
I had the pleasure of spending the morning with UBC’s new President Professor Santa Ono at Place Vanier and Orchard Commons. He had a wonderful morning meeting some of our new students and their families, welcoming them to campus, and, of course, taking selfies with them!