Needs, Numbers, and Nuances: College of New Caledonia

Providing a home away from home for students amid housing affordability challenges is a tall task for universities.

Graduation from high school is a critical point in a young person’s life. Now they face the possibility of no longer having a family framework to guard them as they begin their collegiate years. Their housing situation can play a critical role in determining which college to attend. As such, student housing is a major investment: for the schools, but also for students, their parents, and the supporting agencies. These home-away-from-home spaces need to provide safety, comfort, engagement, and resiliency.

Thankfully, schools are getting better at seeing the need for amenities and the significant role student housing plays in creating a vibrant and supportive campus. Residents need the right amount of personal security and space to focus on their academic goals. And the right student housing also fosters mental and physical well-being.

As the population grows, so does the need for housing. For the year ending 2022, Canada reported an increase in population of over one million people, representing a 2.7 per cent growth rate. It’s the highest number in Canada since 1957. Meanwhile, housing affordability in Canada has worsened in the last 20 years. In 2005, Canadians’ monthly mortgage payments on a median-priced home were about 35 per cent of Canadians’ average income. In 2022, that number peaked at 68 per cent for Canadians and over 100 per cent for residents of Vancouver, where population growth and foreign investment have changed the urban context.

This is all to say that market housing for students is expensive. Often, without viable on-campus options, students look to rental housing close to campus. This puts more pressure on social and economic housing affordability for those that rely on the rental market.

In 2018, the government released a budget that had a plan to build 114,000 affordable housing units over the next 10 years. The budget also set aside $450 million for a student housing loan program that made funds available to colleges and universities to build 5,000 on-campus student housing beds in 10 years. Institutions are adding 3,000 more beds with other funding sources. To date, 11 public post-secondary institutions have new student housing projects underway or completed.

At the College of New Caledonia in Prince George, B.C., Nahoonai-a provides a tailored housing experience for Indigenous students.

Investments in housing, investments in students: College of New Caledonia

Student housing is not a silver bullet, but it’s chipping away at a handful of existing challenges. One such example is Nahoonai-a, designed by Stantec for the College of New Caledonia in Prince George, which has a large Indigenous student body that comes from various remote areas of the province. The 12-bed housing project was the first of its kind in the province, built to be a welcoming place, familiar, yet modern, where First Nations students would come to live with their peers and an Elder.

Programmed into the building is a cultural space for social activities on the ground floor. Overall, the design is influenced by regional geographies and the history of the Lheidi T’enneh people.

Inspired by the local geography and First Nations Lheidli T’enneh Band, the name Nahoonai-a means “The People from the confluence of the two rivers,” as Prince George is situated at the union of the Nechako and Fraser Rivers. The two-storey wood frame structure brings together two contrasting materials that serve to provide both natural elements (wood) and protection from the harsh winters (sheet metal). The metal wraps the building on all sides and leaves exposed the ends of the building where wood faces both the public and campus sides of the site.

A large gathering place anchors the main level program and opens to the east and west cardinal directions. The gathering place is fitted with a separate exhaust fan system for ceremonial purposes.

Built to meet the requirements of the B.C. Energy Step Code 4, Nahoonai-a includes a communal kitchen designed so students can build relationships with their peers and amenity spaces for cultural gatherings. An apartment-style unit was included for a live-in local Elder, who can provide support and cultural guidance. One of the student housing projects funded through the British Columbia Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills’ loan program, Nahoonai-a was designed to feel like home and to bring a level of inclusivity to the college for students.

Jason Sedar is an Associate, Project Manager at Stantec, working predominantly with the educational sector and post-secondary institutions.

Photography by Ed White Photographics