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UBC has grand plans for Surrey, south of Fraser

UBC Properties Trust purchasing 135,000-sq. ft. site in Whalley for $70 million, at southeast corner of King George Boulevard and Fraser Highway
Artist’s conception of what UBC’s Surrey project might look like from across the street. (Image: UBC)

The University of British Columbia is taking a large leap into North Surrey with an aim to better serve post-secondary education needs south of the Fraser River.

The university is expanding its presence south of the river with UBC Properties Trust purchasing a 135,000-square foot property in Whalley for $70 million, at the southeast corner of King George Boulevard and Fraser Highway.

The project, to be built where Grace Hanin Community Church is currently located, will combine residential and commercial space to generate revenue for the construction of dedicated academic facilities. Next year, UBC will launch a consultation process with Surrey and Fraser Valley communities as well as Indigenous leaders, UBC students, faculty, clinical faculty and staff “on regional and academic programming needs in order to determine the future vision for the site,” a UBC press release states.

“More information regarding the community consultation process will be shared in the coming months.”

Santa J. Ono, UBC’s president and vice-chancellor, told the Now-Leader this move is “incredibly exciting for UBC.”

He said the university already has roughly 5,100 students and trainees who are pursuing their post-secondary education south of the Fraser.

“For the past six years that I’ve been here at UBC different mayors and different MLAs constantly have been saying we need more UBC in Fraser, and in Surrey,” Ono said. “And so I’m really excited we’re going to be able to respond to those calls for more of a UBC presence with this significant expansion.”

UBC president Santa Ono. (Photo: UBC)

The focus on what selection of courses will be available at the Surrey site is all part of the public consultation, Ono said.

“We do know personally there’s a huge demand,” he said. “Part of it is assessing what the regional and local demand is in terms of what kind of programming.”

The expansion of SkyTrain from Surrey into Langley, he added, is “a part of what makes that location very attractive.”

As for how much UBC’s project will cost, all told, he said it’s “probably a little bit early to say.”

When will shovels be in the ground?

“We are closing on this,” Ono replied. “We do want to have this period of consultation first, so we need to plan this and it’s going to take about at least a year for us to do that. And then obviously we need to get permitting for the overall project so it’ll take a little bit more time but it’s amazing how quickly time flies when you’re doing something like this.”

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Surrey Memorial Hospital and the King George SkyTrain Station will be among UBC’s neighbours. The press release notes UBC already has a “significant presence” on this side of the river, with some 3,500 students, 750 members of its faculty and staff, and thousands more alumni who call Surrey home.

Ono said the university is committed to “creating welcoming spaces that advance innovation and collaboration and respond to community and regional needs—and this new site demonstrates this.

“We look forward to working with the City of Surrey, Fraser Health, First Nations Health Authority and regional partners to uncover the many exciting possibilities that this new project holds for the Surrey community and Fraser Valley, as well as UBC students, faculty and staff,” Ono said.

Meantime, Anne Kang, minister of advanced education and skills training, said she’s “thrilled” that UBC is expanding its presence in Surrey.

“This project gives more opportunities for British Columbians to access post-secondary education and skills training in the fast-growing Fraser region. I look forward to working with the university and regional partners on developing the future vision for the site,” Kang said.

Bruce Ralston, NDP MLA for Surrey-Whalley, echoed that and said he’s confident Surrey will “continue to attract the brightest talents from across the region and across the world. The university’s efforts in initiating consultation with Fraser Valley and Indigenous communities are putting this expansion on the right track.”

Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum said UBC’s $70 million investment is another indicator of Surrey’s rising prominence in the region.

“The property is strategically located close to rapid transit and Surrey Memorial Hospital making it an ideal location for UBC to build a strong presence in Surrey and south of the Fraser,” McCallum noted. “I welcome UBC’s new development in Surrey, and I look forward to seeing this project completed as quickly as possible.”

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About the Author: Tom Zytaruk

I write unvarnished opinion columns and unbiased news reports for the Surrey Now-Leader.
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