By Paddy Henry
Plans have begun for a new €60 million student accommodation complex at NUI Galway. The 674–bed facility is due to open at the start of the 2022/2023 academic year, in an attempt to relieve stress on an already creaking housing market.
This is the second development of its type in recent years, after the opening of Goldcrest Village in 2018, which consists of 76 four to six bed apartments. A greenfield site for the new complex was pinpointed north of Goldcrest Village, between the Park and Ride facility and the Bioscience Research Building. It is understood that the project will not impact upon Corrib Village.
The development is expected to cost around €60 million but could rise with additional costs and VAT. The University has invited tenders for the design and construction contracts for the new build, with the deadline for submissions having closed on 1st November. Tenders say that the plan will be delivered in 2 phases, with the completed project ready for September 2022.
The complex will consist of four blocks, with one block ranging from four to eight storeys tall, two six storey blocks, and one four storey block. SIN understands that, like Goldcrest, the new build will be catered primarily towards first years and International students. The new build will also include more communal facilities such as service rooms, refuse storage and covered recycling storage facilities. Courtyards, pedestrian access, vehicular access and disability parking facilities are also planned for the new student accommodation. Vehicular access will be available through the existing Corrib Village access road. SIN also understands that the new build is expected to include more rooms for disabled residents than the number required.
Students’ Union President, Clare Austick, welcomed the news of the new build, telling SIN, “We absolutely welcome more purpose–built student accommodation, particularly when there is a lack of housing available in Galway City for students. However, it must be at an affordable price! We have seen it happen in the past where the accommodation complexes built were luxurious and completely overpriced. That’s no good to students, they don’t want fancy rooms. So, we absolutely do welcome it, there just needs to be a provision in place that it’s affordable for students”.
Galway City Councillor and former NUI Galway student, Owen Hanley, also spoke to SIN about the new build. The Councillor, who sits on the Galway City Council’s housing CPG (Corporate Planning Group), welcomed the move, but urged caution, citing the University’s track record on proving affordable accommodation to students. “From my own experience as a recent student, I know the pressures that exist on so many students to find accommodation. The University has failed to provide the provision of affordable accommodation with security of tenure up until now so increased action on this is welcome. As this project goes out to tender, concerns around cost are crucial to ensure good value for money as well as keeping the accommodation as affordable as possible. There is a growing perspective from the local Council that student accommodation is the responsibility of the University and should be built on student grounds, so that increases pressure to ensure this plan is done right”.
Ann Duggan, the Director of Commercial Services at NUI Galway, also welcomed the news. “I think this a good thing from the point of view of students and their families because I think it’s very stressful for parents. Our catchment area for students spreads from Donegal right down to the south to Kerry, but, increasingly, we’re seeing more students coming from the Leinster region as well because Dublin has become so prohibitive”.
Ms Duggan also explained the reasoning behind Goldcrest Village being primarily catered towards first years, “It appears that, for parents, they all want on–campus accommodation for first years because it’s safer and safety is just paramount for them. There are a lot of other private developments happening. The Westwood intend on opening next year and, as well as that, there’s the Bonham development in the docks and the development at the bus station, so it remains to be seen how that will impact. If you’re 21 or 22 trying to finish a degree, it’s a different story to just starting out in college”, she said.
NUI Galway’s Director of Commercial Services noted that the new development is being rolled out purely to meet demand, stating that, “Your standard three bed semi doesn’t seem to be available as much anymore, the accommodation offices have seen a huge decline in spaces available, so this is aimed at trying to address that need. We opened Goldcrest in 2018, but we were the only Irish university that hadn’t built over the space of 23 years, we hadn’t built at all, whereas all of the others had, so there’s a bit of a catch up there”.
Ms Duggan disputed critics’ claims that current residences are unaffordable and overpriced and put too much focus on luxury, telling SIN, “Bedroom sizes are 12 metres squared including the bathroom. You couldn’t really make them much smaller. Having 6 to a kitchen, students coming in would prefer smaller. It’s about trying to specify what people need. We’ve looked at doing non-ensuite. In Corrib Village, we have shared bedrooms, they sell for less than €100 a week, but they’re always the last rooms to sell and the ensuite rooms are always the first ones to sell. When we brought it on in 2018, Goldcrest Village cost 25% less than a private sector village that was brought on stream in Galway, and you know yourself what the rates are like in Dublin. I don’t believe that there’s anything that we could change in the specification here that would make it more economical to build”.
While the new build won’t be coming on stream for another few years, it seems that any news on increased bed spaces for students is welcome news in the current accommodation crisis.