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Coronavirus: Calgary post-secondary students move into reduced-capacity dorms

Click to play video 'Calgary universities see major dip in on-campus housing numbers' Calgary universities see major dip in on-campus housing numbers
WATCH: Campus life will be very different for students living in residence at Calgary universities. Several safety measures are in place, including downsizing the number of students per room. But as Lauren Pullen reports, hundreds of students have also opted out of on-campus housing until at least winter – Aug 31, 2020

With the back-to-school season upon us, students are making the move to Calgary campuses during an unprecedented year.

Post-secondary institutions have implemented new procedures — including reducing residence capacities — for keeping students safe.

SAIT

At SAIT, the pre-COVID-19 residence capacity was 1,200, according to officials. Now, it’s about 550. Around 290 are confirmed to be moving in for the fall semester.

“Housing assignments will be conducted in a manner that promotes physical distancing such that one student will be roomed in a two-bedroom suite and two students will be roomed in a four-bedroom suite and all residents will have their own washroom,” the SAIT website read.

SAIT spokesperson Chris Gerritsen said the health and safety of students and staff is the school’s No. 1 priority.

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“We continue to follow the health and safety guidelines set out by the government of Alberta and [Alberta Health Services] for post-secondary institutions — this includes capacities required for building occupancy,” Gerritsen said in an emailed statement on Monday.

University of Calgary

At the University of Calgary, move-in day turned into move-in week — from Aug. 30 to Sept. 7.

Lakshmi Sangaranarayanan, associate director of U of C residence services, explained how the school has adapted to the pandemic with staggered time-slots and closed common areas.

“Student health and safety is the utmost priority to us so that’s the reason we ended up closing dorm-style residences,” she said, noting that Kananaskis and Rundle halls were closed.

“In the student assignments, we’re maintaining the two-student-per-washroom ratio. If it’s a three-bedroom, only two students will be living — they’ll have their own bedroom but they’ll share a bathroom.”

Read more: Increase in enrolment at Mount Royal University despite move to online classes

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In a regular year, U of C residence houses between 2,600 and 2,800 students, Sangaranarayanan said.

“Around 900 students will be moving into residence this year compared to 2,700 students,” she said. “It’s about one-third occupancy, which is a huge adjustment for us, being 98 per cent occupancy last fall to 30 per occupancy is what we’re expecting.”

In her 19 years in this field, Sangaranarayanan said the vibrant move-in energy feels different this time around, adding the pandemic caused a “huge hit to our bottom line.”

“Even though there are not many students living in residence, we still want to give our students the best experience. So connections [are] important [and] taking care of our students’ wellness,” she said, noting it is the school’s first year of having wellness ambassadors to provide extra support.

Watch: SAIT students shocked to receive eviction notices amid COVID-19 pandemic

First-year U of C student Sascha Skoronski moved to Calgary from Victoria for a change of scenery. He is excited to meet new people — even if it’s from two metres apart.

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“Although it won’t be exactly the same as a normal first year with COVID going on, I think Calgary is doing quite a good job of making sure it’s as normal as possible,” he said.

“Kind of curious to see how it’ll turn out.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Alberta continues to struggle with public health messaging to young adults

Skoronski’s mom Tracy Tresoor is cautiously optimistic about her son being in residence and worried he’ll get sick when she’s far away.

“I have a lot of trepidation about him being here. I’m a family doctor in Victoria so I’ve been immersed in this for the last six months,” she said.

“Although it’s going to be different, they will never have a chance to be first-year university students again. I really didn’t want to deny him that, as hard as it is.”

Mount Royal University

Mark Keller, director of Mount Royal University residence services, said obviously, it’s a strange year, but all things considered, the move-in went well over two days.

“We had a really good response from students and their supporters in terms of the new regulations we put in place,” he said, citing that fewer students will be housed together.

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“We would normally have about 900 students moving in over one day. This year, we’ve got about 250 students moving in over two days,” he said, explaining that residence is at 30 per cent capacity.

Keller said it’s an essential service, and even though the school won’t be making as much money as usual, “we’re going to get through.” Students are paying what they would normally pay, he said.

“Most of our units are four-bedrooms and those have two bathrooms each. What we’ve done is decreased the occupancy of those to two people so they each have their own bathroom,” he said, explaining that two-bedroom units are now just for one person.

“We’re going to do the best we can to provide the best on-campus living experience for the students who are here.”