Post-secondary students from two major Saskatoon schools will be centralized to one location sometime in the future — a move that city planners agree with.
Saskatchewan announced Wednesday that the more than 10 Saskatchewan Polytechnic buildings, scattered from the city's north to its west end and across the city centre, will be consolidated at Innovation Place on the existing University of Saskatchewan campus.
According to Alan Wallace, a planning director at Wallace Insights in Saskatoon, the school lands right where it should.
"I know they were looking at locations outside the city centre, some as far away as the far west end of Saskatoon, and I just didn't think those were good locations," he said.
He said the choice benefits from the city's developing Bus Rapid Transit plan that has bus stops drawn out at five places on the university's perimeter.
Wallace said the university's 400 hectare agricultural land is up for development in the near future which opens up residential possibilities across from the new campus.
Accommodating tens of thousands of students
Saskatchewan's Minister of Advanced Education, Gordon Wyant, said this will be the first instance in Canada where a "major polytechnic is co-located in a university and an innovation park."
With that combination, he told The Afternoon Edition's guest host Peter Mills, he expects more students will enrol once it's completed.
More than 6,000 students enrolled at Sask Polytech last year and there are over 26,000 students at the university this year.
That added enrolment will thicken an already densely populated university community where tens of thousands of students will attend school in a two square kilometre area just outside the downtown.
Wallace pointed out that Preston Avenue, on the east side of the university campus, can handle the current traffic capacity but that could change when the move is completed.
College Avenue south of the university has already been the centre of discussions about improving bike infrastructure following the death of a 33-year-old cyclist this summer.
He suggested that a 33rd Street commuter bridge that would have connected to Preston Avenue, which was once criticized for potentially busying a community-friendly street, would be beneficial to the city now to ease strain on the roads surrounding campus.
Regardless, the city will have to consider active transportation in the area and will have time to do it, he said.
Saskatchewan has committed $200 million to the $500 million that it's estimated it would cost to build the campus.
"It's an announcement that was a long-time expected. It took seven years to land on this site but it took even longer to get some government commitment," Wallace said.
Larry Rosia, Saskatchewan Polytechnic's President and CEO, speaking about the school's new Saskatoon campus on Wednesday. (CBC)
There is no timeframe yet for when the new campus will be ready, but Saskatchewan Polytechnic president Larry Rosia expects it will take three years to build once workers break ground.
Wyant said the new campus will have buildings designated for different specializations, using a mix of old buildings and new construction.
Students that intern at the city and community planning firm Prairie Wild Consulting say the centralized campus could be a good thing, according to its founding director Lenore Swystun.
She said that those students, both from polytechnic and the university, say stronger traffic infrastructure must be delivered along with it.
Swystun, a registered professional planner, agrees with students that this lights a fire under councillor seats to enact stronger cycling, pedestrian and transit infrastructure throughout the city.
"Now we're talking about an innovation corridor... let's get good transportation in terms of accessibility for people of all types," she said.
College Avenue, just on the edge of the University of Saskatchewan campus, pictured in June during a busy morning commute. It's an area where experts say there needs to be better traffic infrastructure to accommodate Saskatchewan Polytechnic's future campus. (Dayne Patterson/CBC)
The currently distributed Sask Polytech campus built to one location has its advantages, Swystun said, and so do joint-research opportunities with the university.
"Let's make sure that we've got good cross-pollination between the university side and the Polytech side and that could create really good learning opportunities and research opportunities," she said.
Swystun was curious what would happen to the former buildings, which Rosia had said were outdated and had high leasing and maintenance costs.
Swystun believes there is an opportunity for them to be re-purposed and remain valuable parts of Saskatoon.