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A sign at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver, on April 23, 2019.JONATHAN HAYWARD/The Canadian Press

The University of British Columbia is about to launch its biggest out-of-Vancouver expansion in years, with the purchase of a $70-million lot at a key intersection in Surrey, to be developed into a campus.

UBC president Santa Ono said it’s a significant move, aimed at serving the growing Surrey population and the increasing number of students who come from there. It will also provide support to more than 5,000 medical, nursing and pharmacy students who do rotations at Surrey facilities.

Dr. Ono said he’s been getting requests from mayors of Surrey, as well as city leaders and federal and provincial politicians, since he was appointed to his role five years ago.

“The excitement is palpable out there. Since my arrival, leadership in Surrey have reached out and said they wanted an even greater presence, asking us to get closer.”

He said the campus will be able to accommodate some arts and sciences classes, along with continuing education – a package that he hopes will provide an “economic sparkplug” for the rapidly growing city.

The new UBC property, a 12,500-square-metre site that was owned by a community church, is at the corner of King George Boulevard and Fraser Highway, which puts it next to Surrey Memorial Hospital and the current King George SkyTrain station.

UBC is making the purchase less than a year after the province announced that Simon Fraser University, which has had a strong presence in the city since 2006, would be getting a medical school for its Surrey campus. It will be the region’s second medical school after UBC’s.

UBC had been lobbied for years by Surrey leaders to establish a satellite, but had never indicated it was prepared to make such a move.

“We’ve worked with UBC and, every once in a while, they started to show interest. Finally they are here with a huge investment,” said Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, who was thrilled about the news. “I think they saw our fast growth and we’re getting recognized.”

He said the city centre Surrey is trying to develop further away on King George Boulevard, where SFU and city hall are, would have been a good location for the new campus, but the university found its own site instead.

The proposal will be fast-tracked, Mr. McCallum said, and there are already meetings scheduled to get that going.

The site was purchased by the UBC Properties Trust, whose chief executive officer, Aubrey Kelly, is a former CEO of the Surrey City Development Corporation.

UBC plans to develop the site with residential and commercial elements that will pay for the academic buildings. Dr. Ono said it hasn’t been decided yet what that mix of uses will be, what density might be proposed or what construction costs are likely to be. The site is zoned for high-rises.

The last major expansion UBC made outside its Vancouver campus was to the Okanagan in 2005, a move that created facilities for 10,000 students.

About 750 UBC faculty members and 3,500 students currently live in Surrey.

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