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Selkirk College housing proposals promise big benefits for Castlegar/Nelson

Artist's rendering of proposed new student housing in Castlegar.

Selkirk College has approached the province with two potential projects to increase student housing in Castlegar and Nelson for an estimated cost between $20-25 million.

“We’ve submitted two proposals: the first would see a three-story building with 110 additional beds in Castlegar and 40 new beds at the Nelson Silver King Trades Campus for students in short-term apprentice training,” said college president Angus Graeme.

This proposal comes with a price tag of roughly $25 million.

The second option is pared-down version, with a two-story building in Castlegar adding 76 beds and 25 new beds in Nelson, costing roughly $20 million.

“This is the first time the (provincial) ministry has gotten involved in student housing directly,” Graeme said. “They’ve said they’re interested in providing some grant assistance, particularly in rural communities.”

He said the issue now comes down to just how much assistance the government will provide, as the college will have to borrow the rest, and there’s a limit to the debt burden the college wants to bear for years to come.

“We started working on the proposal in December, in anticipation of the provincial budget,” he said. “We’ve worked really hard to get some really good-looking, shovel-ready plans for them.”

He said the project is much needed.

“We are starting to get back to where we were about a decade ago, where we have students who are cancelling at the last minute because they can’t find affordable housing. There really is a housing crunch in both Castlegar and Nelson.

“We also feel it’s one of the ways we can contribute to general affordability – this came up during tuition debates.”

He said students today are facing a variety of costs, and the biggest line item for them, more than tuition and books, is housing.

“It will also maybe take a bit more pressure off the community at large – it has a sort of ecosystem effect that benefits the whole community. Whenever we bring in a large capital construction project, it’s fulfilling our desire to be an economic driver in the region. It has such a good impact for the region, with more housing, construction jobs and so on.”

The two proposals have been submitted, and the college is now waiting for word from the province on what grant funding will look like now that the B.C. 2019 budget process is complete.