Barring any new setbacks, the new SUB, formally named the AMS Student Nest, will be opening before summer is upon us. So, how has the AMS financed the project, what were the setbacks really all about and is the Nest going to live up to expectations?
With the building lifespan of the current SUB drawing to a close, the AMS had three options moving forwards: full renovation of the existing SUB; part renovation and part expansion into University Square; or the construction of a new building on University Square. The cost for each option was roughly the same, and the AMS Council unanimously agreed upon the third option in 2008. According to AMS Designer Michael Kingsmill, “It was a combination of functionality, cost of renovation and what would happen to the society during the renovation.”
The passing of a student referendum in April 2008 allowed for an incremental increase in student fees to raise the $80 million needed for the project. The AMS was then able to move forward and develop the detailed program and design for the new SUB project, and complete a set of legal documents with UBC.
- $80 million from student fees -- given to UBC Properties Trust
- Protected pools of money for AMS use -- AMS Cost Centres
- $80 yearly fee per student starting in 2008, increasing incrementally each year after the building opens by $10 and capped at $100.
- Money initially loaned from UBC at 5.75 per cent interest.
- $25-26 million in donations from UBC.
- Any additional donations do not increase the total budget, instead they go towards repaying the university’s donation.
Inspired by Build Simon Fraser University’s implementation of external funding, the AMS is exploring options that will decrease overall costs of building the new SUB.
According to AMS VP Admin Ava Nasiri, transferring the AMS’s loan from UBC to an external bank, such as BMO or TD could decrease the interest on the $80 million loan from the current 5.75 per cent to 3-4 per cent, which over the decades could save the AMS anywhere from $6-26 million. Nothing has been confirmed, but the AMS is striving to improve funding options.
With so much custom design, minor changes have had a huge impact on the overall momentum of the project. The construction teams are working at full capacity, but there is a shortage of specialized teams and several setbacks with potentially high costs have limited progress.
Although there has been comprehensive coverage of the delays themselves, the public has not been offered a narrative of what’s been going on behind the scenes.
Many students blame the AMS for the delays in construction of the new SUB, but the internal structure of the project team is much more complicated.
The AMS are in conversation with the UBC Properties Trust (UBC PT), that maintains direct contact with DIALOG (design & coordination) and BIRD Construction, who are responsible for the management of the drywall, electrical and construction teams.
Due to the unique nature of the design of the Nest, many of DIALOG’s designs cannot be implemented directly, and the construction team constantly finds themselves needing to make minor changes to the design. The problem, then, is that every one of these changes needs to be approved by the AMS and the UBC PT, and this causes huge delays in construction. To quote Nasiri, “It is a cancer that won’t go away.”
The construction team is now getting ready for the occupancy walkthrough, planned for end of April. Kingsmill likens the preparation to studying for an exam. Pre-walkthroughs include testing the smoke evacuation system by setting off a smoke bomb in the Agora. If the occupancy walkthrough is successful, the AMS will acquire a certificate of occupancy and will be able to finally open the Nest.
The AMS Student Nest features a significant amount of wood finishing, and several construction delays have occurred due to the complexity of implementing them.
Fins on the Nest (October 2014~)
The fins on the outer surface of the AMS Performance Centre have contributed significantly to delays. According to Nasiri, the construction team faced a potential $500,000 overage in implementing these, and were forced to change their approach. The fins are now being machine-built and finished by hand. Each fin requires three to four lifts to install, which only adds to the difficulty. Kingsmill described the issues further, “the height of the ceiling made it impossible to work on ladders, so we’ve had to work on scissor lifts and on boom cranes.” Due to these complexities, construction has been moving at a snail’s pace.
Wood Inset Stairs (December 2014~)
The stairs in the basement of the Student Nest were initially designed to have wooden tips, but this led to complications. Extra effort would be necessary in molding the cement portions of the stairs in order to fit the wood inset design, and this could have led to an additional cost of $60,000.
The main contribution to delays was the sheer amount of coordination required to implement changes. As Kingsmill describes, “Every change order has a flow, and that flow takes it across many people’s desks.”
After much consultation, the AMS and UBC Properties Trust decided to use plywood. According to Kingsmill, “It’ll be much more expedient in terms of the hours involved and the amount and type of materials.”
Fire Safety Consultation (March 2015)
Due to a discrepancy between the plans that had previously been laid out for fire sprinklers and the consultant’s interpretation of the fire code during a recent walkthrough of the building, a late-April/early-May opening of the AMS Student Nest has been jeopardized. A small issue like this is more harmful than it seems as it inhibits the management from resolving larger issues.[/ub_box][/fw_wrap]
The delays have been extremely frustrating not only for students, but for all parties involved, especially the AMS. The first delay in construction pushed the opening date to January 5, a date the construction teams were fully confident would work. When they received a notice of delay in October, the AMS were extremely disappointed. Nasiri said, “we were crushed; it was a lot to digest for the AMS.”
The earliest possible opening date, according to Nasiri, is sometime in mid-May. However, the AMS is hoping to give students the opportunity to tour the Student Nest during and after finals and the construction teams are prioritizing the completion of public spaces over areas for more exclusive use, such as the AMS Council Chambers and the Perch. Exactly when the Student Nest will be ready to open its doors is unclear, but it may finally be time to put away our cynicism and get excited for the new SUB.
We’ve waited and waited; it had better be good.
Despite the numerous disappointments, the building itself is truly exciting. The AMS Student Nest hopes to deliver a fresh SUB experience for students with five floors, each with a distinct identity. The lower floors provide public space for general use, and the upper floors feature spaces for more exclusive use.
Basement -- Concourse and the Pit
The Nest’s design allows for so much natural light that students many not even notice that this is the basement floor, but it is definitely below ground level. This level has the Agora, the main concourse, and is a place to chill, eat and mingle.
The new Pit, which has been completely revamped into a lounge/nightclub and given skylights, will also be located here. With TVs in every stall and a large media wall, or a mural-sized TV, the Pit has been given a definite upgrade. Skylights provide natural lighting to the new Pit, and will contribute to the fresh atmosphere.
The basement and level one host the food outlets. The variety of foods has improved, and the businesses have transformed into avant-garde fast-casual dining experiences. Furthermore, all of them, including the Perch, will be accepting the UBC Card as a form of payment.
Another cool feature will be Timber the tree, which will interact with its environment by, for example, drooping its branches during busy times and spreading its arms during quiet hours.
This floor will also house the Clubs Resource and Sustainability Centre, which will be the pinnacle of sustainability in the Student Nest. By teaching students and clubs more sustainable practices and through programs such as equipment rentals for clubs, the CRSC will hopefully raise the already high standards for sustainability at UBC.
Level One -- Spy on the Basement or Look up at the Nest
This floor offers a view down into the Agora, and also features some concourse space, where students will be able to hang out, eat and study.
Level One will also be the new home of AMS services Speakeasy and Safewalk, as well as the campus radio, CiTR.
As the Basement and Level One host the food outlets, expect heavy traffic on these floors during lunchtime. But don’t fret; live music will be playing, so waiting in line for lunch should be more enjoyable in the Student Nest.
Level Two – Revamped Multi-Purpose Space
With large bookable rooms, the Great Hall, the AMS Performance Centre and various other multi-purpose spaces, this floor will serve as the main level for events of all sizes.
The art gallery will be renamed the Hatch and moved to this level in the new SUB.
The Ubyssey’s new office will also be on this floor, meaning the editors will finally be able to intake Vitamin D at work.
Students will be happy to find seven pocket lounges dispersed throughout the building on levels two to three. Each pocket lounge features a unique theme (e.g. music/hi-tech) and has a sink, couches and other useful utilities.
Level 3 – AMS and Clubs
Lots of current club offices are dismal places, and many clubs are looking forward to an upgrade. This floor is exactly that. With several clusters of club offices, each connected with a common lounge space, this floor will definitely improve the quality of life for many club executives. The addition of what Kingsmill describes as "a truckload of new club lockers" will help as well. Level 3 also houses the AMS governance offices.
Level 4 – Fine Dining, Long Meetings and a Rooftop Garden
The only drawback to the design of this floor is that, to get to the beautiful rooftop garden and Perch restaurant, you have to climb up five flights of stairs. Or, if you detest walking, take one of the three beautiful glass elevators.
In case you missed it, yes, there is a stunning rooftop garden. Kingsmill said, “It was almost like how could we not come up with the idea. Rooftop gardens are the soup de soir of sustainable buildings.”
Students may want to join the Rooftop Garden Club and supply the Perch with (very) locally grown ingredients.
Many students will likely find themselves on this floor enjoying the view, possibly dropping in on meetings held in the Forum, the AMS’s new council chambers, or relaxing in the Grad Student Society lounge.