[Editor’s note: this content is in development]
The University of Winnipeg Community Renewal Corporation (“UWCRC”) is a not-for-profit charitable corporation, created to support the University by developing a sustainable University community. Half of its 16 member Board is drawn from the University community, including the President, who serves as chair. The other half is drawn from the community, including neighbourhood organizations, developers and development professionals.
UWCRC is guided by a four pillared concept of sustainability (environmental, social, economic and cultural) and is mandated to move beyond the traditional inward direction of the University to develop partnerships with community, private and public sector organizations. UWCRC undertook extensive consultations to develop a comprehensive campus development plan which it has used as the template for a $200 million development agenda.
Sustainability principles are incorporated into each development project. Buildings are designed to achieve LEED Silver status or better. The residence, McFeetors Hall: Great-West Life Student Residence, combines dorms with affordable apartments and reserves half of the units for community residents. The new Downtown Commons provides an opportunity for creating a community with a wide cross-section of people from different cultural, economic and social backgrounds. It is a place built to respect the diverse needs of people. The UWSA Day Care serves children from the University community as well as children from the local neighbourhood. The Buhler Centre which houses the Faculty of Business and Economics and the Professional, Applied and Continuing Education program, is a joint venture between the University and the Plug In Institute of Contemporary Art. The Richardson College for the Environment & Science Complex, targeted for LEED Gold, includes a multidisciplinary centre for sustainability as well as state-of-the-art teaching and research laboratories. The Axworthy Health & RecPlex, targeted for LEED Gold, will guarantee significant community programming and access through a community charter. Both McFeetors Hall (2010) and the Richardson College for the Environment & Science Complex (2012) are also recipients of the City of Winnipeg Accessibility Award.
In addition to property development, UWCRC manages business units, including housing and the bookstore. Most significantly, UWCRC has partnered with a community economic development organization, SEED Winnipeg, to create a unique campus food service, Diversity Foods, a social enterprise which provides affordable, nutritious, locally sourced, organic, multi-ethnic food . Diversity also provides significant job opportunities for new Canadians and Aboriginal people.
Beyond the University’s downtown campus, UWCRC is overseeing the redevelopment of the Merchant’s Hotel in Winnipeg’s North End for both University and other purposes, including housing and commercial enterprises.
UWCRC is also supporting business development for First Nations associated with the University’s Master’s in Development Practice program, including a land acquisition plan utilizing Treaty Land Entitlement funds, and an organic fertilizer facility using fish polluting Lake Winnipeg. Finally, UWCRC will be managing the commercialization of UWinnipeg research.
We are not aware of any similar structure within the Canadian University context. Most universities look for the leadership competencies associated with development on their Boards. However, Board appointments are influenced by many factors – development capacity and experience is not often at the top of the list. This structure allows the corporation to identify and select for its Board those with the specialized background and experience necessary to advance its mission.
Similarly while many universities seek to break down barriers with the community and provide greater accessibility, they are challenged to identify regular communication forums with neighbourhood and other community leaders, and even when communication occurs, they are often criticized for providing too little, too late. UWCRC brings the community to the table with formal input through the Board governance process, throughout the planning and implementation stages of all University development and creates opportunities for joint University/community initiatives.
1. Student Living – Creating a high quality living experience for a growing residential population including both sequential and non-sequential students.
Since 2007, the University has tripled the number of housing units for students (often in arrangements including high-quality, affordable housing for community residents). A wide range of housing options have been developed – communal housing, bachelor apartments within a seniors’ residence, dorm style units and multi-bedroom apartments for mature students with families. The expansion in housing has been combined with a new day care centre, doubling the number of available day care slots, a retail mall with an expanded bookstore (tripling the size of the old University bookstore), and multiple eateries. Since 2009, Diversity Foods, the new University food service (which operates all cafeterias, a separate restaurant and a catering operation) has achieved a range of social objectives, tripled food service sales, and changed the perception of the University food service from one of the worst in Canada, to one where student perception of healthy food on campus is rated among the highest in Western Canada, according to the most recent Globe and Mail Survey.
2. Campus Expansion – Creating a presence in the downtown by repatriating programs scattered through the City and increasing the overall University campus size in response to an overly dense footprint.
Since 2005, development activities have increased the campus footprint by more than 30%, including four new LEED Silver or Gold facilities, McFeetors Hall (Silver), UWSA Daycare (Silver), Richardson College for the Environment & Science Complex (targeted Gold), and the Buhler Centre (Silver), RecPlex and Wellness Centre (Silver). During that same period, enrollments have increased by approximately 15%. One major new development will be completed in the next 2 years.
3. Community Emphasis – Creating a campus accessible and welcoming to the entire community, with a particular focus on New Canadian and Aboriginal peoples.
Self-identified Aboriginal students now comprise 12% of the University student population, and visible minorities, many of whom are New Canadians, a further 23%. Many of these students are non-sequential, mature students with families. The development of apartment style housing has been specifically targeted to meet their needs.
4. Commitment to the Environment – Becoming a leader in environmental sustainability.
All new developments are LEED Silver or Gold facilities. This, along with the retrofit of existing campus facilities, will result in the University significantly reducing its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and achieving Kyoto compliance.
UWCRC has helped the University achieve financial gains or cost reductions in many areas. Serving as the University’s development arm eliminates the need to hire outside developers and pay development fees. Instead, these fees are paid to UWCRC which, after covering its operating costs, advances them to the University.
Business units also have improved outcomes. Over the past five years, housing has moved from a loss centre to a modest profit centre while tripling the number of units and absorbing the debt service associated with a significant construction mortgage for McFeetors Hall. As well, the UWCRC housing management model and strengths of the UWCRC housing team have prompted Red River College to contract with UWCRC to operate Red River’s new downtown housing initiative.
Similarly, food services were historically provided by multi-national service providers who provided commissions in lieu of rent. Generally, sales at the University of Winnipeg never exceeded $1 million, and were often lower. In three years Diversity food sales have increased to $2.5 million.
Tuition and the Provincial operating grant, the traditional sources of University funding, are insufficient to cover the University’s operating costs. Consequently, the University recognized the need to develop a third stream of revenue. UWCRC has been the catalyst for developing that stream at the University. Development fees and the conversion of business units from loss centre to modest profit centres are now being augmented by consulting revenues associated with community development initiatives, business development initiatives with an Aboriginal focus and commercialization initiatives. These UWCRC initiatives are, in turn, inspiring other revenue generating initiatives in other areas of the University.
The dramatic growth in the campus footprint, including expanded state-of-the art science, business and other academic facilities, along with the addition of housing, daycare, and other retail amenities has been a critical factor in facilitating substantial enrolment growth, also critical to addressing the University’s financial challenge. The University’s approach to growth has established it as a community leader in sustainability, reflected not just in its environmental practices, but its social and cultural commitments as well. It has been recognized by Manitoba First Nations as an Aboriginal home.
Finally, and perhaps most broadly, the effect of the campus development over the past five years has been a re-imagining of the University in the community. The University is seen as innovative, dynamic, cutting edge, and sustainable. It is recognized as a primary engine for the redevelopment of Winnipeg’s downtown.