K’ómoks First Nation blesses NIC Student Housing Site

A rendering shows the new student housing buildings to be built.

The K’ómoks First Nation, North Island College (NIC) and guests gathered at the Comox Valley campus Friday, Jan. 6 to bless the site of two new student housing buildings at NIC.

The blessing is an important step that ensures the project enters the site preparation and construction phase respectfully.

“The K’ómoks First Nation, NIC and the architects have worked collaboratively and looked at every aspect and detail of the Indigenous design, and we are very appreciative of this initiative,” said Nicole Rempel, Chief of the K’ómoks First Nation. “The K’ómoks First Nation is proud to invite students to our traditional territories to live and learn in such a wonderful community. We hope that this brings an opportunity for everyone to learn our K’ómoks culture.” 

The K’ómoks First Nation, the Indigenous Education Council at NIC and the College have worked together on the project from its original concept to site selection and design. Most recently, K’ómoks First Nation members have been actively involved in the selection committee overseeing the procurement process leading to a new design and design-build team.

“I am grateful to K’ómoks First Nation for their teachings as we work to build a living-learning community that welcomes everyone. Their participation every step of the way in the development, siting and design of our first student housing supports NIC’s commitment to Indigenization and reconciliation,” said NIC President Lisa Domae. “NIC is humbled to share a culture of care with K’ómoks First Nation, and their ongoing commitment to each student’s experience exemplifies how we can work together to build healthy and thriving communities, one student at a time.”

NIC named Urban One Builders and HDR to oversee the design, engineering and construction of the College’s first housing project. 

The two companies will oversee the design and multiple partners handling design, structural, mechanical and electrical engineering, sustainability, geotechnical work and landscape architecture. The project is expected to result in 341 direct and 229 indirect jobs and a $77.2 million investment into local economies.

Two student housing buildings will provide 217 beds for students, including 157 beds in a larger building and 60 beds for students with families in a separate building. The buildings will sit adjacent to the Comox Valley Aquatic Centre, close to childcare, restaurants, businesses and other amenities.

The project is funded largely by the provincial government, as part of the provincial Homes for BC initiative, a 10-year housing plan that aims to see 8,000 new student beds built on campuses by 2028.

“Our government recognizes how important access to housing is for all students and how integral it is to their post-secondary experience,” said Selina Robinson, Minister of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills. “That’s why we are happy to support this student housing development, which will incorporate many Indigenous design elements, and will be a welcome and accessible space for students, including those with families. With North Island College’s 217 new student beds, we are 97 per cent of way the way towards reaching our goal of building 8,000 new student beds on B.C. campuses, well ahead of our 2028 schedule.” 

With input from the K’ómoks First Nation, the project will incorporate many Indigenous elements, from the design influenced by West Coast plank houses to opportunities for Indigenous art to the presence of NIC’s first Indigenous Gathering Place at the Comox Valley campus.

“The Design-Build process allows for greater engagement and input from the local community. We are looking forward to building strong relationships with the K’ómoks First Nation and all of the different stakeholders as we bring this project to life,” said Allan Beron, President, Urban One.

The project will represent many firsts for the North Island. Urban One has extensive experience with post-secondary projects, this innovative project will use mass timber elements, and it will meet Step 4 of the BC Energy Code Step Code—the highest step in the code for commercial buildings. 

The site design and planning process are designed to retain as many trees as possible during the build, with the college committing to three trees for every two that are removed. Other environmental considerations include the use of natural light and solar shading, vegetation biodiversity, and the capture and reuse of stormwater.

“With experience designing accessible spaces that strengthen communities and prioritize sustainability and resiliency, HDR is honoured to serve as the architectural firm for the first student housing project at North Island College,” said Matthew Emerson, Architect AIBC, HDR. "We look forward to working alongside North Island College, Urban One and our design partners to develop housing that pays respect to the K'ómoks First Nation, deepens connections with Indigenous territories, and ultimately brings access and opportunity to the College’s diverse student body."

For more information on upcoming meetings, timelines and more visit, www.engage.nic.bc.ca/housing-commons.  

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More on This Story

A backgrounder for the Jan. 6, 2023 Blessing Event for the Student Housing project.

Media Coverage

Comox Valley Record: K’ómoks First Nation blessing begins ground-breaking for NIC housing

CTV Vancouver Island (story begins at 11:06)