Founders Residence will no longer be an option for students

The writing was on the wall at least three years ago, but the decision to discontinue using Founders Residence has finally come to pass. Following a meeting of the Council of Masters Dec. 15, where Gary Brewer, York vice-president finance & administration, gave a detailed overview, the decision was made to remove Founders from the list of students’ residence options for the 2011-2012 academic year.

The residence (left), which opened in 1965 with the inauguration of York’s Keele campus, is the oldest student living quarters on campus and is in need of $7.5 million in renovations in coming years. With the 250-bed residence already two-thirds empty, it was clearly time to address the changed circumstances of housing at York.

“Faced with these facts, we had to deal with them,” said Founders College Master, Professor Mauro Buccheri. “It’s not a decision made from the top down. It’s a harsh reality.”

Housing revenue at York fell by $1.2 million for the year 2010-2011 and there are a total of 350 beds vacant at residences across campus, according to figures Brewer shared with the council. “There’s a very clear financial case and the trend in applications makes it even stronger,” said Debbie Kee, York’s director of housing services.

In her study of the challenges facing York student housing, Kee said several factors have contributed to a 14-per cent decline in the occupancy rate at York’s undergraduate residences over the past three years. Foremost among them is the availability of cheaper accommodations in The Village, immediately south of the Keele campus. Kee said they are attractive to students because of their lower cost and the absence of any requirement to register for a meal plan, while still offering a group living environment.

Kee said a study is underway to develop a housing master plan for the longer term, but a solution to the financial crunch was needed immediately and preliminary findings indicated taking Founders off the list of options was the logical choice. “Founders has always been the last building to fill up,” said Kee. “The aging infrastructure is inadequate to meet the needs of our students; there are no elevators and there is no air conditioning.”

Buccheri acknowledges that Founders was also the least preferred option for undergraduate students. Even those affiliated with Founders College listed either the Pond Residence or Calumet Residence as first or second choices.

Buccheri said he had briefed some members of the Founders College Student Council and later met with the full council to discuss points they raised about implications for the student levy. With fewer students in residence the levy will be reduced, but Buccheri said he would work with the council to address those concerns.

Although York Housing Services has attempted to increase use of Founders Residence by letting sections of it to students in the York University English Language Institute, it wasn’t enough to fill the 250 beds available. Kee said future uses of the building will be studied as part of the long-term plan, which will take into account the completion of the Spadina subway through Keele campus, the building of a new stadium on the property next to the residence and more housing planned for the still undeveloped area south of the Keele campus, adjacent to the future Finch West subway station.