Ground has broken on a student housing project and childcare facility at Okanagan College’s Vernon campus.
Construction has begun on the new building next to the trades building on campus. It’s the first student housing building at the Vernon campus, and it’s expected to be finished by September 2024, in time for the school year to begin.
Once construction has wrapped up, the building will contain 100 student housing beds and 44 childcare spaces.
Local dignitaries and Okanagan College staff gathered at the site Friday, April 21, for a groundbreaking ceremony.
Vernon-Monashee MLA Harwinder Sandhu said when news that the project was approved came to her, she and her staff members danced in her office.
“This is an exciting time for Okanagan College students with construction underway now on new housing at the Kelowna, Vernon and Salmon Arm campuses. Post-secondary students need access to affordable housing to pursue their studies and lay the foundation for their future, helping to prepare them for the jobs of tomorrow, as they are the future of our province,” Sandhu said, adding the student accommodations will take some of the pressure off the local rental market.
Okanagan College president Neil Fassina said the project will provide relief from the stress of finding accommodations and childcare for “thousands” of students in the coming years.
He said this will allow students to graduate at higher rates, which in turn will provide more skilled workers to the area. He added skilled workers are in high demand in all sectors currently.
“For nearly 60 years, Okanagan College has been a pillar and a hub of higher learning, apprenticeship and vocational training. Today when across all sectors of our community, we are seeing demand for professionals and skilled workers, as a broad community we must and have to pull out all of the stops,” Fassina said. “That’s why breaking ground on our new student housing and childcare centre is so exciting, and you just have to look across behind me here to see the progress that we’ve already made.”
Fassina said the student housing project came together over five or six years, but the childcare centre has only been in the works for about a year.
The childcare centre was added to the plans after a substantial donation of $500,000 from Lloyd Davies and Janet Armstrong. The husband and wife are also providing an $80,000 matching donation for the Plant a Seed Day Fundraiser, which takes place May 10 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Vernon campus.
Davies is a former instructor at the Vernon campus, having started in 1999 and retired in 2014. He said every year he worked at the college, he would ask, ‘where is the daycare?’ and every year he would be told it was in the plans, but not ready yet. He decided to kickstart the funding for the daycare centre after years of seeing students having to miss classes, labs and exams to take care of their kids.
“It just tied in perfectly with the federal government and the provincial government making an agreement for $10 a day daycare, and I knew that the college was actually building a residence up here as well, and so tying all those together with our donation, we were able to kickstart the college to actually take this on,” Davies said. “And this is something that is going to affect all of Vernon, because even though there’s other daycare centres being built, this one is going to be specific to this community and also take the pressure off those other daycares because students can have their children here and that leaves those spaces down in town more available for other parents who need that care downtown.”
Former Okanagan College student and parent Sarina Parsons was at the groundbreaking and said the project will be a game changer for people like her.
“In 2021 I decided to enrol in Okanagan College, but finding appropriate childcare was a struggle. I was lucky I had a supportive family member who could provide some part time care, but not everyone does,” she said. “When student parents know their children are well cared for, they can focus on their studies, thrive in the classroom and graduate, which leads to better paying jobs and a better lifestyle for our families. This new childcare facility will prevent many other student parents from having to go through the stress I’ve had to endure. It will allow them to focus on their goals and aspirations while knowing their most precious little ones are being cared for in a loving and nurturing environment.”
The project cost for the student housing in Vernon is $18 million, all covered by the province. Between the Vernon student housing building, the Salmon Arm building (60 beds) and the Kelowna student housing building (216 beds), the province has invested more than $70 million. All three student housing buildings are expected to open in the fall of 2024.
The Vernon campus’s childcare centre comes at a cost of $2.75 million, with $1.5 million provided through the Childcare BC New Spaces Fund and the remaining $1.25 million through the Okanagan College Foundation and community donors like Davies and Armstrong.
The Plant a Seed Day fundraiser on May 10 will look to raise the remaining funds for the childcare centre. The event features a lemonade crawl with eight different flavours of lemonade, a free yoga class, an art class, activities for kids and more. All are welcome to attend the event.
The Vernon student housing project and childcare centre will be built using mass timber and is designed to meet Step 4 of the B.C. Energy Code.
The childcare facility will be operated by Maven Lane, which already operates another facility in Vernon.