A photo of SFU’s new building (right), which will be home to the Sustainable Engineering program. It’s the first in a proposed three-phase expansion of the university’s Surrey campus.

SFU president talks about Surrey campus expansion, need for more student seats

While the provincial government promised to double SFU’s student spaces from 2,500 to 5,000 by 2015, that hasn’t happened

As SFU Surrey continues to expand and readies to open a new “cutting-edge” $126-million building designed by the late architect Bing Thom, the university’s president is calling on the provincial government to deliver more student seats.

Seats that were promised back in 2006.

“Surrey has the youngest and fastest-growing population in B.C., yet it falls significantly below the provincial average in post-secondary seats per capita,” SFU president Andrew Petter said, speaking to a business crowd at a Surrey Board of Trade luncheon on Nov. 21 at Eaglequest golf course.

“We have a mounting talent shortage (in B.C.), yet we’re under-serving the promising youth who are already here,” Petter added. “It’s not good for anyone. It’s also not new information. As far back as 2006, the provincial government looked to the gathering demand for post secondary seats in Surrey and committed to doubling SFU Surrey’s domestic student spaces from 2,500 to 5,000 by 2015. Their foresight has been borne out in the year’s since as Surrey’s population has grown even faster than was expected. Between 2006 and 2015 it rose by 35 per cent – almost 144,000 residents. Yet the doubling of student space never occurred.

“No wonder demand for seats in SFU’s leading programs such as health sciences and mechatronics have become so intense, with high school students needing average GPA’s in the 90s range just to be considered.”

Petter said he was encouraged last year, when B.C.’s the Advanced Education Minister last year “finally committed funding for this first phase of long-awaited expansion.”

That expansion has now been realized in the new five-storey, 15,000-square-foot building. It has been constructed on a property that used to be a parking lot across from City Centre Library which was, coincidentally, also designed by Bing Thom, who was a prominent Vancouver architect before dying of a brain aneurysm in 2016.

SFU’s new building is nearly finished, and is a stone’s throw away from its existing campus inside the Central City tower – yet another Thom-designed building.

The $126-million project received $45 million each from the federal and provincial governments, with SFU paying for the remainder.

When the new building opens to students in 2019, it will be home to the Sustainable Energy Engineering (SEE) program as part of the Faculty of Applied Sciences.

Petter said the “cutting-edge” program will be the “first of its kind in Western Canada.”

“It will leverage SFU’s strength in engineering, energy technologies and environmental science,” he noted, “it will integrate policy, economics, management and entrepreneurialship.”

The university says the SEE program will “reinforce B.C.’s emergence as an internationally-recognized centre for clean-tech innovation, investment and job creation.”

The building, at 10285 University Dr., will feature teaching and project labs, classrooms, administration offices, student service spaces, and plant maintenance facilities, as well as a 400-set ground-floor lecture hall — the largest at SFU’s Surrey campus — as well as a 200-seat theatre. It also has a multi-purpose spaces that can be used by high schools and the community at large.

The university describes the building as a “world-class living lab in the heart of Surrey.”

The new structure, and program, will open in 2019 with 22 new faculty and 17 new staff, and capacity for 80 first-year undergraduate students, and 40 second-year undergraduate students. Over five years, SFU estimates it grow to 320 undergrad students, and 120 graduate students.

And SFU has no plans of slowing down. This building is the first in a proposed three-phase expansion of its Surrey campus.

Planning is already underway on the next two phases which will include “high demand programs in the areas of health innovation and creative technologies.”

“In particular, our vision for phase two is health innovation: leveraging the strengths of our Faculty of Health Sciences, we’re prepared to offer programs that equip students to enhance the quality, efficiency and sustainability of B.C.’s health system,” said Petter. “We propose to add more than 600 spaces: 540 undergraduate and 70 graduate seats, in areas designed to improve health outcomes while reducing escalating costs, including transformational approaches to health promotion, disease prevention and health care delivery. Particular subjects of study could include health systems innovation, indigenous health, and potentially a transformative medical program that would equip primary care physicians to work alongside other health care providers in a community setting.

“In phase three, we’re set to deliver almost 300 new seats in creative technologies,” he noted. “These would include more than 250 undergraduate and 40 graduate spaces in programs that prepare students to address the growing need of technological advancements in all sectors of the economy.”

Petter said the overall impact of SFU’s expansion will “be to advance Surrey’s leadership in clean tech and sustainable energy, and generate greater prosperity for the whole of British Columbia.”

“That is the power, that is the dividend, of investing in post-secondary education here in Surrey,” he said.

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Petter stressed that B.C. is suffering from a shortage of talent in its workforce, which is preventing the business sector from “realizing its economic potential.”

“Talk to any business, anywhere in the province, and you’ll hear the same thing,” Petter elaborated. “And Surrey is suffering from a shortage of educational capacity that is preventing its burgeoning youth population from realizing its human potential.

“We have two problems that can be addressed with a single solution and it’s a solution that SFU and I’m sure KPU as well, is well-equipped to deliver. You may look no further than our new SEE building to see the proof. Just two short years ago we had only a vision and a promise, as illustrated in the compelling renderings generated at that time by Bing Thom’s architectural firm here of the auditorium.

“Now we can admire the realization of that vision. In a few months we’ll be opening it.”

He ended his keynote address to Surrey’s business crowd by recalling a memory. A memory of breaking ground on what it now the SFU Tower, a project that was then intended to be “Tech BC.” He did so with then-mayor Doug McCallum, who, of course, has returned to the mayor’s chair.

“The vision, which Bing Thom championed so passionately, was if this was done, it could lead to a whole new city centre. Imagine that, isn’t that a crazy idea?” Petter chuckled. “It could lead to investment, public and private, that would create a metropolitan hub for Surrey. Surrey would cease just to be a suburb of Vancouver, it would be a city in its own right, with its own centre, with its own infrastructure. It happened. And it happened because of the vision that was had, and that vision depended on a university being part of that vision and being at the core of it.”

Petter said he was pleased that just last week, when the Select Standing Committee on Finance and Government Services issued a unanimous report calling on the province to provide funding to expand the number of student seats available both at SFU Surrey and at KPU, to address the increased demand for post-secondary training and education in B.C.

“It didn’t come out of the ether,” he noted. “It was the result of a lot of advocacy.”

Petter said B.C.’s “educational deficit is costing the province $7.9 billion a year in lost GDP. And it’s denying government $1.8 billion in foregone tax revenues. And the problem is destined to get worse if we don’t do something about it.”



amy.reid@surreynowleader.com

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