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Construction of student housing underway at Salmon Arm Okanagan College campus

Follow progress of four-storey facility on live construction cam
A camera following construction of the four-storey student housing complex at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus can viewed at (Okanagan College image)

For Joan Ragsdale, the large hole in the ground outside her office at Okanagan College’s Salmon Arm campus is a welcomed “site.”

At a construction site in the northeast portion of the campus, the foundation is taking shape for a $13 million student housing complex that is expected to open in fall 2024.

“It is huge and so exciting and so much of the community has been involved behind getting student housing here,” said Ragsdale, the campus’ regional dean. “It’s kind of humbling.”

The Salmon Arm student housing project involves the construction of a four-storey mass-timber facility that will provide 60 beds on the upper floors, as well as student gathering areas and a gym on the bottom floor. Study rooms will be available on each floor.

“Some beds are micro units so everything is included – you have your own bathroom and kitchen in the micro-units,” said Ragsdale. ‘Then there are pods and quads… where you share a kitchen and bathrooms, but they’re really quite lovely.”

In March 2021, the province announced funding for student housing at the Salmon Arm, Vernon and Kelowna Okanagan College campuses. The total cost of the three projects is $67.5 million, with the province investing $66.5 million and Okanagan College funding the remaining $1 million.

A groundbreaking for the Salmon Arm project was held in April 2023.

Since she began working at the college seven years ago, Ragsdale has seen the need for student housing – and affordable housing in general – grow. The province’s investment was spurred by this need.

“As you know, it’s getting harder and harder for students to find a place…,” said Ragsdale, noting international students enrolled in two-year programming at the college have a real struggle finding accommodation.

“If you look at our practical nursing program, there was a variety of students that needed to get together to find a rental house and they were really struggling to find a spot where they could make sure they had a place to stay,” added Ragsdale.

When complete, the student housing complex will not only help address these challenges, it will also enable the college to look at an expansion of programming.

“The long and short of it is, we’re hearing needs for programming and we’re looking at labour market reality in terms of gaps in the labour market and making sure our programming aligns to that,” said Ragsdale.

Asked if the housing facility might be open to the public in the summer months for things like large sporting events, Ragsdale said while the college wants to maximize capacity, students will be given priority.

“We do programming year round…,” said Ragsdale. “We’re definitely quieter in the summer though, there would be more opportunities in the summer. However, now that we’re looking at how student housing works across the province, what we’re finding is for students in two year programs, they want to secure their housing for the full time…”

Read more: Student housing at Salmon Arm’s Okanagan College campus takes step forward

Read more: Student housing to be built on Okanagan College Salmon Arm campus

Asked if the new building would include an option for onsite childcare, Ragsdale said one is planned for the Vernon facility but not Salmon Arm’s.

“It might be something we look at in the future – not just students but for employees,” said Ragsdale, adding housing for employees is another challenge. “That’s another piece that’s coming up for us as well.

“All these things we’re working through and trying to figure out.”

With the construction zone at the campus’ north entrance, the college has set up signage assuring the college is open for business.

Options to access the campus include parking in the SASCU Recreation Centre parking lot and using a pathway that goes around the west side of the construction fencing (towards the pond). Alternatively, the public can access the campus off 5th Avenue NE.

The bus stop at the campus has been relocated to a temporary location by Shaw Centre. There is also a bus stop behind the campus on 5th.

People may also continue contacting the campus by phone and online.

“Come down, call us, email us, we’re happy to help,” said Ragsdale.

To monitor progress on the student housing projects in Salmon Arm, Vernon and Kelowna, live construction cams have been set up at each of the campuses and can be viewed at
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Lachlan Labere

About the Author: Lachlan Labere

Editor, Salmon Arm Observer
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