Opinion: Move the buses and let’s build!

School district 73 bus lot pictured in white. (Robert Wisla/The Omega)

When I interviewed council candidate Chris Bose, he talked about affordable housing and during our interview I suggested we replace the old School District 73 bus lot and work out a deal with the city to build affordable student housing on the lot. He enthusiastically backed the idea.

It may seem like a small thing in the fight for more accommodation in Kamloops where our vacancy rate is near or at 1 per cent available housing stock. But fact of the matter is more people are moving to Kamloops than ever before and it is having repercussions on how much rent is costing. The lack of available housing has affected students to the point where I know over a dozen people personally who are putting themselves up in hotels.

The advent of students going into hotels and motels is also troubling because there is less room for tourists directly leading to us losing out on the great tourism dollars that benefit our economy.

The municipal election offers a chance for us to discuss new ideas and during the last weeks of the campaign I want the school board and council candidates to talk about getting rid of the SD 73 School bus lot on McGill and replace it with a tower of student accommodation, perhaps with a craft beer spot where students can hangout and doesn’t close on weekends (I’m looking at you The Den).

Is this idea doable? Resoundingly yes— buses can get put on any dirt lot in Kamloops outside the city, students on the other hand can’t really get put on a dirt lot to live and go to school.

Will it be easy to do? Yes and no. One would hope the different levels of government could simply do a public-private partnership on a student accommodation tower or the school district could sell to one of the many developers or even TRU itself, with that money going toward building public schools.

The former minister of education George Abbott said something to this effect a few years back:

“Should they sell those surplus assets they would be put in reserve for utilization, for example, for new school construction purposes or new site acquisition purposes,” Abbott said. “It would not be drawn back to the province.”

By and large school boards have final say on this idea and election turnout for school board elections is abysmal. So students I’m looking at you, GO VOTE. Tell your candidates that you want more student housing NOW! Any plan to get a tower up that is affordable will take years no matter what given the slowness of government and the time it takes to start construction, but if we don’t start now we won’t have a chance to try this idea again for another four years and the accommodation crisis will only get worse.

Let’s get building Kamloops, move the bloody buses.