KPU breaks ground on new design school building

Project expected to be finished by Fall 2017

An excavator breaks ground on July 4, 2016 for the Chip and Shannon Wilson School of Design, due for completion at the end of 2017. (KPU / Flickr)

Construction has officially begun on the long-awaited Chip and Shannon Wilson School of Design building. The building, at Richmond campus, will be 6,000 square metres and constructed with the needs of the design school in mind.

The new building has been in the pipeline for a long time, with the project first announced almost two years ago. The building is still within budget, with $12 million coming from KPU, another $12 million from Chip and Shannon Wilson, as well as $12 million from the provincial government.

According to Alan Davis, president of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, construction plans had gotten themselves sorted out two months ago, though the overall plan had been in motion since late 2012.

“We signed the funding [document] in December 2012, soon after I arrived, and the project went out to bid in 2013, and in the Summer of 2013, bids came back and they were all way high. We thought ‘something’s amiss here,’ but we weren’t sure.”

According to Davis, administration wanted the construction to come in around $25 million, knowing that the remaining $10 million or so would be spent on architecture and other fees. However, Davis believes that there was a “misread of the market.” He also notes that “custom features” drove the price up higher than expected.

“Very quickly, we sort of cancelled that bid, retreated, did some negotiation with the lowest bidder, worked closely with the ministry to change the parameters of the project, and it has to be re-approved by the government. The commitment was always there by us, the Wilsons, Lululemon—who had $4 million—and the government.”

Last year, KPU was suggesting that the new building would be a multi-storey wood frame building, and that it would satisfy a variety of ecological requirements. However, there are now fewer “custom” design elements, like wood framing, and a few more standard ones. Davis suggests that a few of those features might have been set aside for the sake of cost.

“We’ve kept all of the functionality of the building the same, in terms of what the design school needs it to be. The sustainability parameters are still there . . . we want it to be an exemplary building. The Wilsons wanted that too, something that would work on all those levels. It took a while, because you’re working with government, you have to go through the process, you have to reassure the treasury board that the money you’re putting in is still going to get the job done.”

Ultimately, the building will still be the same price, $36 million. Davis believes that ultimately, no one’s education has been delayed or otherwise hampered by the lack of progress. He notes that the design program remains one of the strongest programs at KPU.

The design school is known for its ruthlessness, and the how difficult it is to be accepted into the program. It’s also known for a high employment rate amongst new graduates. Given the program’s reputation, some might view the construction of the new building as a smart business move.

“I think the opportunity arose, and it arose because somebody—before I arrived—saw the opportunity that a lot of our grads were being hired by Lululemon. There are connections between faculty and the industry,” says Davis. “[Chip and Shannon Wilson] are keenly interested in developing the talent that’s in the Vancouver region, because it’s one of the global stars of technical apparel and athletic wear.”

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