A hotel planned for Northwestern BC is finding new life as student housing at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops.
Rental vacancies in the city fell below one per cent last year and rents are increasing. Many students are forced to live off campus in old motels and hotels, often the same properties commonly used by low-income citizens.
“International students are often living in the same complexes as significant numbers of subsidized housing recipients,” a report housing consultants Scion Advisory Services prepared for TRU this spring reported, noting that many of these properties are deemed “nuisance housing” by local authorities. “International students, generally, have not been involved in the police calls or other complaints about nuisance housing but they are living in the same complexes which gives concern for their safety and well-being.”
The issue concerns the university, which has not only studied the issue but is working with the city to develop housing options such as a temporary modular installation on McGill Road that opened last December.
“Anything we can do to add more beds in Kamloops is a good thing, so we brought in about 114 beds, put it on a parking lot at the edge of campus,” says Warren Asuchak, associate vice-president of campus infrastructure.
The high-profile site wasn’t the first choice for temporary housing modules, but as one of the sites TRU had designated for student housing it was the logical choice.
But earlier this year the university was approached by NRB Modular Solutions, an Ontario-based modular builder with a location in Kamloops. A contract to supply hotel units for a well-known brand was cancelled at the beginning of the pandemic and NRB was looking for a home for the modules.
“The deal fell through so they had some modules that were sitting there and they were able to give us a pretty good deal on them,” Asuchak explained. “They said, ‘We think this could save you some time and save you some money.’”
A feasibility study indicated that the units were “the fastest and most effective way” to deliver much-needed student housing to campus.
“It was the fastest way we could get going on this,” Asuchak said.
Civic zoning required that each unit have a kitchen, so the hotel modules had to be adapted but the city gave approval to the four-storey 80-unit project in July. The modifications also allowed the rooms to be reconfigured to double the bed count to 148.
“We’re still putting a fair amount of money into it because we’re going to change the look of it and some of the features,” Asuchak said. “It won’t look like a hotel but it will look like a really nice apartment building.”
TRU’s inspiration for the project came from Trinity Western University, which used modular construction for a block of student housing on its own campus in Langley.
“It’s an amazing building, and the advantage is they build it off-site,” Asuchak said.
This means less disruption on campus, and a faster construction timeline. And, in the case of TRU’s units, it also allowed the units to be repurposed in a cinch.
“These modular are sitting there, already built, they’re brand new,” he said. “We’ve been planning this approach for awhile; this just sort of sped it up a little bit.”
NRB, which merged with fellow modular builder Horizon North Logistics Inc. in 2019 and became part of Dexterra Group in 2020, has supplied a range of residential, commercial and industrial spaces. It has developed several affordable housing projects for the Vancouver Affordable Housing Authority and BC Housing as well as the Hyatt Place hotel in Prince George.
“With an unprecedented number of applications for on-campus housing expected over the coming years, post-secondary schools are beginning to act quickly,” NRB states in a blog post regarding the advantages of modular student housing. “Modular construction is serving as an ideal solution – one that requires minimal disruption to the existing student body.”
NRB declined comment on the current partnership with TRU.