When the BC NDP government backed Capilano University’s purchase of the former Quest University campus in Squamish, the $63.2-million deal did not include the four student dormitory buildings.
One week later, the Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills says it is eyeing them.
Minister Selina Robinson was non-committal when she and Capilano University president Paul Dangerfield announced the acquisition of the 18-acre campus from Primacorp Ventures on Aug. 16.
“Having a campus here means that people can stay in their existing housing and go to school,” Robinson said. “We recognize that housing is really challenging right across the province and so that's why Capilano University is exploring housing options, and we're in ongoing discussions about how to address additional housing needs that the university might need to pay.”
Capilano University plans next year to reopen the former private university, which suspended operations in April.
The 55-acres of land that includes the campus, its buildings and surrounding lands were valued at almost $89 million, and listed for sale by NAI Commercial earlier this year.
Primacorp paid $43 million for the land and university buildings to rescue Quest out of court protection from creditors in December 2020. Quest’s biggest lender, the Vanchorverve Foundation, had demanded repayment of $23.4 million at the start of 2020.
After the province’s purchase was announced, the same NAI real estate agent listed the four dormitory buildings for sale. The offering price was not disclosed, but BC Assessment authority shows each valued at $10.724 million last year. The residences total 145,928 square feet in gross built area.
A spokesperson for Robinson said the ministry and Capilano University undertook due diligence before making the campus deal with Primacorp “and any future potential purchase would have to undergo similar processes.”
Before the province committed $48 million toward the purchase, Capilano University had been developing a business case for a new campus elsewhere in Squamish.
“There is an opportunity in the future to acquire the student housing buildings that would provide approximately 450 beds,” said a statement from the ministry. “Further feasibility analysis about this potential acquisition will be required.”
While Primacorp owns the land under the four vacant buildings, the buildings that contain 416 student residential units belong to the company that built them, Southern Star Developments.
In an affidavit in November 2020, Southern Star president Michael Hutchison said his company spent $41.7 million to build the residences specifically for student use, with financing from a Bank of Montreal mortgage.
Near its main North Vancouver campus, Capilano University operates residences in three buildings on Dollarton Highway. The campus of a former international boarding school has space for 290 students in shared and single configurations.