Photo by Lauren St. Clair.
Photo by Lauren St. Clair.

The construction of the new Commons building on campus has been in progress for almost two years. The construction began in late 2016, and is projected to continue into 2019.

On November 7, UBC emailed out its bi-monthly newsletter, UBCO Life, and announced the expected opening date for the Commons building. The building is expected to open on January 2, the first day of the new term.

The new building is anticipated to address some of the space issues on campus. In the last year, there have not been new study spaces added to campus, but there are 800 more students on campus this year than last. The new building is anticipated to have roughly 600 new informal study spaces, as well as a 400-person tiered lecture hall to address the increasing size of classes with the increase of students.

There has been confusion surrounding the opening date for the Commons building. Initially, the project was projected to take roughly a year and a half, making the original completing planned for the summer of 2018. However, the construction has been delayed by several months, making the actual timeline for the project two years.

Photo by Lauren St. Clair.
Photo by Lauren St. Clair.

When asked about the reason for the six-month delay in the opening of the building, Nathan Skolski, the Associate Director of Public Affairs for UBC Okanagan, provided three of the major reasons behind the delay. At the start of the project, there were “challenges with relocation of underground services.” There were also delays related to the “severe winter weather during critical points in the construction process,” as well as “a booming construction market in the Okanagan which limited trades availability and delayed material supply.”

The delayed opening has largely impacted student life on campus. Many students, specifically anyone who has ever walked by the construction, is aware of the noise it brings. For some students, the library is no longer a place they can study due to the noise, and classes nearby are sometimes disrupted as well.

Heather Berringer, Chief Librarian at the Okanagan campus, remarked, however, that “on a positive note, we have received very few complaints about noise or construction activities; these have been very well managed, with noisy work being communicated to us in advance. When we know there will be disruptions, we do our best to communicate these to students.”

Almost every student who shared thoughts about the delayed opening mentioned the impact of study spaces. One student remarks that the student population is growing while the space for them is not.

Without the increased study spaces, finding a spot to work between classes, or even just to sit is incredibly difficult. One student stated that the library is so packed she can’t even find a computer to print anymore, and the only available places to sit are the quiet study spaces, meaning you can’t study with friends.

Photo by Lauren St. Clair.
Photo by Lauren St. Clair.

This sentiment is echoed by the notices posted in the library on tables brought in for extra space. The notices read that the staff understand the need for more space and so have provided the extra tables. Berringer states, “the Library has tried to prioritize any opportunity to add seats to the building, whether it was in finding additional tables and chairs to add to the main floor or utilizing spaces like the Writing and Research Centre, which we will repurpose during the exam period to provide extra quiet study space. For us, this has been about trying to find any and all possibilities to creatively support students until the Commons opens.”

Yet, even these small efforts have not solved the issue. In the most intense story shared about the delayed opening, one student shared a time when she looked for a spot for 40 minutes, and by the time she located one, she barely had time to open her books before her next class. The students nearby at this time nodded in agreement, with one saying “sometimes it forces me to study during lectures, because I know I need to do it, and right then I have a place to sit, since I don’t know if I will find a spot, or how long it will take to find a spot after class.”

Unfortunately, the student impact will continue until January 2, when The Commons is projected to open. Hopefully, as campus staff become more aware of the impact. For now, students will need to adjust and work where they can, and look forward to the opening.