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postsecondary education

View from west of new First Year Plaza and Housing located at 24th Avenue. An artist’s rendering of the planned student plaza adjacent to a new first-year student residence slated to open in 2021.University of Calgary

The University of Calgary has unveiled plans to drastically upgrade its student residences, promising an even grander expansion than has been common at other Canadian universities.

The university's massive, four-phase expansion plan outlines tentative spending of $240-million on student accommodations by 2026, adding more than 1,100 new beds while demolishing five existing residences originally erected to house athletes at the Winter Olympics in 1988.

The school plans to build two new residences to house 580 people by 2015 alone, while tearing down three others. Behind all the bricks and mortar is a drive to increase the percentage of the school's students in residence from 8 per cent to 15 per cent, as predominantly commuter campuses like Calgary's see new demand for a more traditional, social university experience.

"Residence is not just a place to live. It's not an apartment. The residences on campus really provide a sense of community to our students who come to study here," said Voula Cocolakis, UCalgary's executive director of residence and ancillary services.

The new construction won't dent the university's operating budget – all new residences will be built with borrowed money, and school officials plan to service the new debt using residence revenues, donations and perhaps the hope for a windfall from the province.

Many other schools are reacting to unrelenting demand, especially as they take in more students from other provinces and outside Canada, many of whom have higher expectations of privacy and amenities. Queen's University's board of trustees gave the green light this week to two new residences costing a total of $70-million, while the University of Manitoba – which has 300 students on a residence waiting list – has plans for a new 240-bed building to open by 2015.

"I think [housing more students in residences] does change the fabric and feeling of belonging and community," Ms. Cocolakis said.