Toronto Metropolitan University recently decided to drop plans for a new highrise residence downtown that would have housed nearly 600 of its students.
The local councillor for the area is calling that decision “short-sighted” and a disappointment.
But the school is saying “drastic” increases in construction costs put an end to the proposal.
The school wants to construct a new science facility, research space, classrooms, departmental offices, retail and room for other uses on Jarvis Street near Dundas Street.
The plans included a 44-storey highrise that was to sit atop the science building, with floors 15 to 44 of the tower being a residence that could house 570 students.
In mid-June, a representative from the university’s government relations office held an online meeting with interim city councillor Robin Buxton Potts (Ward 13, Toronto Centre) and her chief of staff, seeking to resubmit their application for the development.
But the new application doesn’t include the residence building.
“We are incredibly disappointed by that (decision) considering the housing crisis in general and the housing crisis for students in particular,” Buxton Potts said in an interview Wednesday.
The university blamed financing constraints, she said.
“In order for them to get much needed classroom space built in the time they needed, they didn’t have time to get the financing for the student residences,” Buxton Potts said she was told.
“It seems like a really short-sighted decision from my perspective,” she added.
In a statement to the Star from the university’s facilities management and development services, the university said it had previously submitted an application to rezone a surface parking lot at 202 Jarvis St. and build on the site “when funding became available.”
But the school is now seeking permission from city council to submit a minor variance application that no longer includes the residence, the statement added.
The proposed changes to the application are the result of a number of considerations, including that construction costs have “increased drastically” and the overall costs for the original proposal now exceed the available funding, the statement said.
The university isn’t specifying the dollar amount of the funding it is getting or from whom, or the construction cost overruns.
The university said construction costs industrywide have increased by approximately 17 per cent in 2021 and continue to increase at a rate of 3.5 per cent per quarter.
Space for the new development was “prioritized” based on the university’s campus master plan, which identifies the need to increase classrooms and research labs, the university added.
The university said it looks forward to moving ahead with the Jarvis Street development as it provides a “much-needed opportunity for state-of-the-art classroom and meeting space, research labs and departmental offices.
“We continue to explore more affordable methods to expand residence space on campus,” the university added.
Buxton Potts said increased costs are an issue across all construction sites.
“I think universities across the country are probably faced with issues like this. I think it’s prudent for governments at all levels to look at opportunities to step in and help fill that (funding) gap when we know the crisis we’re facing,” she said, referring to student housing.
As of late June, Toronto Metropolitan University had a residence wait-list about 1,000 students long.
“I’m hoping that through this process they look at every opportunity possible to fill that funding gap and return those residences,” Buxton Potts added.
She said it “doesn’t make sense” not to build student housing on the site given the density permitted there — a situation she called a “missed opportunity.”
No site plan or construction plans have been submitted yet for the remainder of the project, and no building permits have been issued.
Buxton Potts is an interim city councillor who was appointed by council in the spring to fill the vacant seat left after councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam decided to run in the provincial election in June.
Wong-Tam was later elected MPP for Toronto Centre. Buxton Potts was Wong-Tam’s chief of staff at city hall.
“I won’t be a councillor here in the new year (after the October municipal election), so my ability to do anything on this is fairly limited. But I hope whoever is elected next in this position can work with (the university) to find a creative solution to keep the student housing,” Buxton Potts said.
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