Student housing tower in Surrey Central given the green light

The 49-storey skyscraper will feature student rental and market apartments, educational and office space, and shared amenities

Artists rendering of the Education Mega Center. (Submitted)

A new skyscraper will be gracing the Surrey skyline in the coming years, and with it, an option for post-secondary students in search of housing.

The GEC Education Mega Center is being developed by CIBT Education Group and will be a mixed-use residential and commercial skyscraper. Following public hearings, the project received the green light from Surrey City Council on Feb. 22.

CIBT calls themselves “one of the largest education and student housing investment companies in Canada.”

Toby Chu, CIBT chairman and CEO, says they went ahead with the project due to Metro Vancouver’s incredibly low vacancy rate. “We got to a point where we have to build our own [housing] to supply our own students.”

The 49-storey skyscraper will feature 41 residential floors, six commercial and retail floors, outdoor space, and underground parking. It will also include shared amenity spaces, such as a cafeteria, lounges, a library, fitness centers, and meeting rooms. Chu says the idea is that multiple universities will have a foothold in the new tower and will share spaces and therefore costs.

“When the students are living upstairs, they can also use those facilities after school, and during the weekends,” says Chu. “So we have a maximum use of those spaces.”

“The GEC Education Mega Center could provide much-needed rental housing to the students studying at the Simon Fraser University Surrey Campus, the Kwantlen Polytechnic University Surrey Central Campus, and other nearby schools,” says CIBT’s website detailing the project.

KPU isn’t involved with the project, but the university does support it. Chu adds that they have a prior relationship with KPU, as CIBT is building student housing near KPU Richmond.

The site of the new tower is the old roller rink on City Parkway. It’s 20 metres from Surrey Central SkyTrain station, and 80 metres from the KPU Civic Plaza campus. Once completed, it will be the fourth-highest skyscraper in Metro Vancouver at 542 feet tall.

“Surrey obviously has a lot of land. We don’t want to make it too widespread horizontally, and this location allows us to build vertically high so that we can have a maximum use of space,” says Chu.

Student rental units range in size from two to four bedroom apartments and come fully furnished. Tenants will share units with other students, but have their own private bedroom, plus a kitchen, in-suite laundry, wifi, and weekly housekeeping. Chu says the cost of monthly rent will reflect market prices, but might range from $800 to $1,000 a month, depending on the type of apartment.

The upper level market apartments range from studios to two-bedroom units, and the skyscraper will be able to provide living space for over 900 people. Chu says the plan was originally to be a student-only rental tower, but changed to mixed-used rentals in order to be more market flexible. Construction is expected to begin Sept. 2021, lasting about 42 months, and totalling approximately $270 million.

“I think that could be a little higher risk,” says Chu. “When COVID hit, a lot of students went home and then we cannot rent it to anyone else if this is a strictly student-only apartment,” says Chu.

“We understand the education side of things, so we know what is important to the students and their parents; safety is absolutely important, cost is important, as well as convenience.”