Students call for locked doors at unsecured HUB Mall residence

Students living inside the University of Alberta’s HUB mall residences say leaving the building unlocked and open to the public is dangerous for residents.

'You don’t want to leave your apartment at night'

The HUB Mall on the University of Alberta campus also serves as a student residence. (University of Alberta)

Students living inside the University of Alberta's HUB mall residences say leaving the building unlocked and open to the public is dangerous for residents.

Jared Larsen, president of HUB Community Association, said until the doors to the building are bolted after-hours, residents like him will never feel safe.

After he was chased through the mall by a man who was aggressively panhandling for cash inside the building last week, Larsen said he is feeling more determined than ever to see improvements in building security.

"You don't want to leave your apartment at night," said Larsen, who will meet with university officials Wednesday to propose security upgrades to the building. 
Dozens of doors, left unlocked 24/7, connect the retail space of the shopping centre to student residence areas. (University of Alberta)

The HUB Mall shopping centre, at 8921 112 Street, which sprawls over four city blocks on the northeast side of campus, doubles as a student residence, housing around 800 students in suites of various size. 

There is retail space on the main floor, connected through a series of pedways and stairwells, to six floors of students residences. The university records hundreds of security incidents inside the building every year.

The complex has 60 exterior doors. In total, there are 128 interior and exterior doorways within the complex that are left accessible to the public 24/7, Larsen said. 

It's the only residence that is left unlocked after dark.

"You don't really want to walk around the main floor because you're really not sure who you're going to run into," Larsen said.

There is limited security staffing after-hours, Larsen said, and students are fed up.

"This is turning into a real serious issue that we need to address."

Trespassers often make their way inside, Larsen said, and crime rates in the residence are disproportionately high.

"We are getting a lot of trespassers inside of HUB," Larsen said.

"Usually it's a large number of homeless people but we have had religious solicitors going door to door after hours, people who aren't supposed to be there."

'I feel so unsafe'

After surveying 244 residents, Larsen has compiled a report detailing the building's most pressing security concerns.

The report, which he has presented to university administration, includes a proposal for a limited scan card access system to secure the building after-hours.

Larsen's report also included anonymous testimonials from current residents.

"I definitely want card access after hours. I've seen people camping out and doing drugs in my stairwell. This is very unsafe," one student wrote in the report.

"It shocks me how HUB isn't locked yet." 

Another student account details how her abusive former partner made his way inside the building.

"My ex was banging on my unit door and yelling non-stop for me to open, he has been physically abusive and I was so scared," the student wrote.

"I feel so unsafe here."

Hundreds of security incidents annually

A Protective Services security report from November 2018 said there have been 537 security incidents at HUB his year. A total of 661 were recorded in 2017 and 550 in 2016.

The security incidents this year included six weapon complaints, two assaults and a sexual assault.

Trespassing incidents were the most common documented crime, with 130 incidents on record.  

A risk assessment prepared by the university's internal audit services in 2013 estimated that refitting all 60 ground level doors and alcoves with panic hardware and card readers would cost $2.2 million.

The report also determined that a high security risk was posed by easily accessed stairwells and exterior doors, and the likelihood that residence stairwells would be accessed by unauthorized personnel was "almost certain."

The same report said exterior locks would not "achieve desired results" and proposed the university investigate the feasibility of CCTV cameras and a safewalk program to improve building security.

Things are just moving too slowly. -Jared Larsen

Larsen said his security pass proposal would be a cost effective way to address security concerns.

He suggests the university use a 5 percent rent increase proposed for HUB residents to fund the necessary upgrades.

He said the university has reviewed his proposal and has promised to "do something," but he's concerned a chronic lack of maintenance funding will delay any improvements.

University administration has not responded to CBC News requests for comment.

Larsen said students have been calling for improvements for more than six years and it's time for the university to act.

"Things are just moving too slowly because our incident rates are increasing every day."

With files from Stephanie Mitchell