Calgary

Alberta universities plan to do away with dormitory residences during COVID-19 pandemic

Dorm rooms will not be offered at the University of Calgary, the University of Alberta and the University of Lethbridge this fall to allow for better physical distancing due to COVID-19 — but that means students will have to shell out $2,000 to $3,000 more for available options.

First-year students who would normally stay in dorms will have to pay $2,000-3,000 more for other lodgings

The University of Calgary and the University of Alberta are among the schools making changes in their residences in case COVID-19 restrictions remain in place this fall. (David Bell/CBC/University of Alberta)

First-year University of Calgary students who were destined for dormitory-style residences will now be moved to apartment-style residences to allow for better physical distancing due to COVID-19 — but the move comes with a price increase of $3,000.

The University of Alberta and the University of Lethbridge have also decided not to offer dorm-style rooms this coming year, only offering shared apartments or single rooms with bathrooms at about $2,000 more a year on average than the cheaper accommodations.

The University of Calgary's website says it has chosen not to use traditional dormitory-style residences this fall because of the shared washroom facilities, and that first-year student communities would be established in buildings with two and three-bedroom suites.

"You can expect a rate increase of about $3,000 for the academic year, compared to a traditional double room," the website reads. It adds a meal plan is not included.

"We understand this may cause some challenges. However, the new room assignments are in place to maintain everyone's health and safety while staying with us."

Despite the move, it remains mandatory for first-year students living in residence at the U of C to purchase a meal plan.

Assad Ali Bik, student union (SU) vice-president of student life, said the increase in cost to students is why the SU is advocating for emergency funding — especially for first-year students.

The U of C did not make anyone available for an interview but asked CBC News to check back for updates in July.

"Maintaining the safety of students living in residence is a priority of the University of Calgary," the university said in a statement.

"Residence Services is currently exploring various options to house students, including residence life programming, adhering to [the] Alberta government's re-opening rules and guidelines."

Esther Nwafor has lived in multiple U of C residences and moved out in June after experiencing persistent internet issues brought on by a shortage of IT staffing.

She said life in residence has become lonely during the pandemic. 

"I would probably not stay in residence if I was a first-year student right now," she said.

This Mount Allison University student chose staying alone in her small dorm room over going back home to protect her family, who live in Toronto, and to save money. 1:38

Nwafor said higher costs may make staying in residence prohibitive. In addition, physical distancing will make it more difficult to build community.

"Residence did help me make some of my friends that I still have today," she said. 

Changes at other universities

Other Alberta universities are also making changes to their residences for the fall in case COVID-19 restrictions remain in place. Here's what you can expect at some of the province's post-secondary institutions.

The University of Alberta and the University of Lethbridge will also either close or significantly reduce the capacity in dormitory style residences this fall for the same reasons.

The U of A said it is not offering its most economical accommodations, dorm rooms, so the available rooms will be apartments or single rooms with bathrooms — usually reserved for upperclassmen. They're about $2,000 more than dorm rooms, on average.

The U of A said the rates being charged for September 2020 were approved by the board of governors and presented to students in November.

"Those rates have been set and there will not be an impact on students," said  Katherine Huising, associate vice-president of ancillary services with the U of A.

She said no students had been made room offers prior to the pandemic, so they were not sold any dorm rooms at lower rates.

At the University of Lethbridge, Jim Booth, executive director of ancillary services, said students will now live in apartment-style residences, with their own cooking facilities and rooms but a shared living room and kitchen space.

Both schools say that at most, two students will share a bathroom.

The prices for the more expensive accommodations will not be changed from what was released last November, the U of L said. But with dormitories off the table, this means first-year students placed in apartment residences will face an increased room-rate of approximately $2,000.

"We believe that the students have enough anxiety in figuring out how they're going to do classes, which have pivoted online, and if they're moving away from home in this very, very difficult and high anxiety time, the last thing we want to do is throw anything additional anxiety at them," Booth said.

"So we've said the price is the price."

Booth said U of L would not impose a mandatory dining plan on the students who would otherwise have been in dorms, since they will have kitchen facilities. The dinning plan costs almost $4,000, he said.

"At the end of the day, that actually mitigates that annual cost for those students. If they were in the dorm with the room rate plus plus a dining plan, it would be actually more than if they're in an apartment style with their own kitchen."

A dorm room at a university in Hamilton is pictured in this file photo. Dorm life will look different this fall. (Submitted by McMaster University)

Mount Royal University does not offer dormitory-style residences, but said they are reducing capacity in their apartment style units.

"We are now going to be housing two people in our four-bedroom units and one person in our two-bedroom units just to make them safer," said Keller. "And they don't have to share a bathroom which is good."

In most cases, the schools said students will not be permitted to have visitors in residence for the time being.

"Unless there's an extraordinary circumstance which we will facilitate for those particular cases," said Booth. "But otherwise it's not just anybody coming and going. It will be very controlled."

He said students can also expect some help with cleaning.

"We will kind of impose ourselves on the students a little bit because we're gonna come in and we're going to make sure that we wipe down bathrooms and kitchens," he said.

Move in

The University of Lethbridge, University of Alberta and Mount Royal University all said they won't have their usual one-day move-in process.

"Rather than focusing all of our move on a single day we're looking at, can we spread it out over a period of time to allow them to arrive with one or two family members and set up," said Huising of the U of A.

This is because schools must adhere to Alberta's guidelines for reopening post-secondaries and residences.

"So social distancing, doing all of the health checks prior to entry, students that are coming from distance and under the Alberta government guidelines are required to self isolate — we will work to facilitate that process as well," said Booth for U of L.

In many cases students will be assigned a specific time slot to move in.

"Because we want to make sure we're doing it in such a way that that students aren't crowding spaces [like elevators and stairwells]," said Mark Keller, director of residence services at MRU.

Food services

The University of Alberta said their food services will remain open, but students should not be expecting the bustle of a cafeteria or the ability to eat at tables with their peers.

"They go into the dining hall where we have takeaway containers. They make their selections and they're served by the staff there and then they take their containers back to their room," said Huising, adding that the process is being tested over the summer in preparation for fall.

Usually first-year students at the U of L living in University Hall, Kainai House or Piikani House are automatically enrolled in a dining plan, with no opt-out option, but this year that will not be required as all students will have access to their own cooking facilities.

MRU does not offer meal plans.

When it comes to other shared spaces in residences, the schools say they will all be enhancing cleaning and sanitization, as well as placing a number of hand-sanitization stations at entrances.

Some shared spaces at the residences will be closed for now.

"We do have some spaces and we'll be monitoring those to see how they're being used will but we will likely take the furniture out of most of them to keep students from gathering," said Keller.

"We do have laundry rooms ... and we'll be taping off some of the machines so that the capacity in those rooms is less."

At the U of L, students will be required to wear masks when in shared spaces, including hallways. They'll also be required to wear a mask within their apartments if they can't ensure two-metre spacing.

Booth said each student living in residence will be provided with at least three reusable masks.

Students will also get a coloured lanyards to denote which residence they belong to.

"This is in addition to their ID card, so that we can tell at a glance that a student belongs in a specific residence unit so we can create bubbles," he said, adding that these rules are subject to change depending on government recommendations.

The universities say that while they know these changes are not ideal, campus officials will be doing everything they can to welcome students and build community.

Student isolation spaces

With many students potentially travelling from other countries or provinces, and knowing some students may get sick while in student housing, the schools said they've set aside spaces for isolation.

At MRU, Kellery said they've got a plan in place to support those students.

"And make sure they're being communicated with and if they need anything that it's being brought to them and left outside their door," he said.

Similar steps have been taken at the U of A and the U of L.

"We have flex up to about 56 beds but we're putting aside initially 20 beds on standby," said Booth. 

Those beds will be available for students required to isolate upon arrival, or for any students who may develop COVID-19 symptoms during the year.

"We will ensure we can take the individual and isolate them into a unit where they can undergo 10 to 14 days isolation," he said.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said the University of Alberta and University of Lethbridge students would not be seeing a price increase as a result of the dorm closures. However, the universities later clarified that first-year students will have to pay about $2,000 more on average than they would have if they were in dorm rooms because they are now only being offered the more expensive options of shared apartments or single rooms with bathrooms.
    Jul 13, 2020 2:03 PM MT

About the Author

Lucie Edwardson

Journalist

Lucie Edwardson is a reporter with CBC Calgary, currently focused on bringing you stories related to education in Alberta. In 2018 she headed a pop-up bureau in Lethbridge, Alta,. Her experience includes newspaper, online, TV and radio. Follow her on Twitter @LucieEdwardson

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