Thu | Sep 21, 2017

Irvine Hall project pushed back, differences over hall fees and design

Published:Sunday | April 24, 2016 | 4:00 AMTameka Gordon
Professor Archibald McDonald, Pro-Vice Chancellor and Principal of UWI Mona.

The Irvine Hall reno-vation project on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) has been pushed back due to delays in getting internal approvals in time to meet the July commencement date.

Pro-vice chancellor and principal Professor Archibald McDonald told Sunday Business that the finance and general purposes committee of the university did not approve the project, causing the timelines for ground breaking to be pushed back.

Concerns regarding the eventual hall fee to be charged by the developers and the loss of specific features of the hall have been cited for the non-approval of the project, Sunday Business has learnt.

"We are not on target because our finance and general purposes committee failed to approve it. So I have to rethink, restrategise, and go back to them with a new proposal," McDonald said.

Sunday Business caught up with the pro-vice chancellor at the opening of the new Leslie Robinson Hall built by 138 Student Living under a 30-year concession agreement with the university to finance, build, and operate that hall.

$2-BILLION PROJECT

The development company's new subsidiary, 138 SL Resto-ration, signed a similar concession agreement with the UWI to renovate Irvine Hall, with the project initially slated to begin this summer for delivery in 2017.

The agreement will see 138 SL Restoration spending some $2 billion to finance the project.

Irvine Hall will be demolished and reconstructed to increase the current 200 rooms to a maximum of 600 units.

"I'm thinking of going back to the committee in May," McDonald said.

A clear date on when the project will, therefore, start will depend on the approval process, the principal said.

"We have everything in place. As soon as we get the green light, John Lee is ready to go," he said. Lee is the chairman of 138 Student Living.

Concerns that the new Irvine Hall will be priced out of the reach of students who cannot afford the newer halls were also dispelled by the principal.

"That's not true," McDonald asserted.

At roughly $47,000 per month for hall fees, the new Leslie Robinson Hall is priced above the "just under $200,000" annually charged at Irvine Hall.

The fee structure on traditional halls such as Mary Seacole, Chancellor, and Taylor, are lower, in general, than the newer halls, including Rex Nettleford Hall and A.Z. Preston Hall, both developed several years ago by the UWI.

Additionally, students on the traditional halls pay only for the academic year, while students on some of the newer halls pay for each month of the year. The UWI's halls are often rented to visitors and campers during the off-seasons to earn additional revenue.

McDonald says the fees for the rebuilt Irvine Hall should remain in the ball park of $200,000.

"That is what they would continue to pay, if we are allowed to do it, because what we will be creating there are really double rooms to keep the price down," he said. Most of Irvine's room, now are single occupancy, with a few double rooms.

CONCERNS

McDonald said the impact of the renovation of some of the renowned features of the hall, such as the spine/walkway, that holds sentimental value, was raised as concerns regarding the renovation.

The developers plan to keep some of the features, he said. "I have toured it, and there are some parts, like the spine, that we can keep, but the existing rooms are dead, and the buildings which housed the rooms, they have to be demolished and rebuilt."

It is more cost-effective to rebuild than renovate, the UWI Mona principal reasoned.

"If we get the permission from the university, that is what we will do. We will retain the parts that people are sentimental about, but the rooms have to be rebuilt," he said.

Irvine Hall sits on some 12 acres of land. 138 Student Living plans to build vertically, creating multi-storeys to retain most of the green spaces.

"There are people who believe that buildings last forever. That is not true. Buildings, like everything else, have a lifespan, and Irvin Hall has exceeded its lifespan. Those buildings don't last much beyond 50 years and we are now over 60 years," McDonald said.

Another 500-room facility, located near the campus' police station, being built by 138 Student Living, will be used to house the Irvine Hall students while construction is under way.

"It will be built with all the new things that Leslie Robinson now has, but, in addition, we have learnt from this experience and, therefore, we expect that one to be better than this one. There are some facilities that we insist on keeping," McDonald said.

As with the first concession, 138 SL Restoration will finance, build, and operate the hall. It will earn revenue from student rentals. The rate of return on the investment built into the agreement is 12.5 per cent, compared to 15 per cent for the first concession signed by the parent company.

Ownership of the assets will revert to UWI, Mona, at the end of the concession periods.

tameka.gordon@gleanerjm.com