The University of Sydney plans to spend $2.5 billion transforming its historic campus, as a building arms race between higher education providers reaches unprecedented levels.
The university has $1 billion of building works under way, and it has now lodged with the NSW government a more expansive, $1.5 billion master plan for the Darlington-Camperdown campus.
For alumni, many of the buildings of their youth will be demolished under the plan by 2020, including the the Wentworth, Merewether and School of Architecture buildings and International House. Others will be transformed, such as the Blackburn and Bosch buildings. A heritage refurbishment of the sandstone section will create a museum and exhibition space.
The population of students and staff on campus will grow from the current 49,500 to more than 60,000, and the university wants to provide an extra 4000 beds for student accommodation.
Vice-chancellor Michael Spence said he wanted to future-proof the university, where world-class research and teaching would no longer be affected by some ”frankly ropey” facilities.
”The university went through a long period of under-investment,” Dr Spence said. ”Our financial planning is now back in order … and we can realise these ambitions with some borrowing, money set aside and federal and state government grants as well as some philanthropy.
”It’s like a young family building a house. They build for the one child they already have but also for the one to come.”
Dr Spence said the entire higher education sector in Sydney was experiencing a construction boom, which his university was late in joining.
Citywide, more than $2.5 billion of construction is occuring, including renowned architect Frank Gehry’s first Australian building for the University of Technology, Sydney. In four years, the University of NSW has doubled the number of beds available on campus, now housing 4600 students.
Growing domestic and international student numbers and a multifaculty approach to research were key drivers.
University of NSW vice-chancellor Fred Hilmer said more than $1 billion had been spent on his campus since 2006.
“You could say we’ve had to beg, borrow and steal to achieve this capital program,” he said. “We had to find a diverse range of revenue sources: government funding; public/private partnerships; philanthropy, including a number of gifts of $10 million or more; selling surplus assets; and borrowing.”
However, the expansion outwards and upwards is testing relationships.
Geoff Turnbull, a spokesman for REDWatch, a residential group covering Redfern, Eveleigh, Darlington and Waterloo, said the university had to extend its public consultation over the master plan after failing to engage with the community as required.
”[Residents] fear that the university will gobble up the area they live in, and the existing infrastructure such as Redfern station and pedestrian and car access along the streets can’t handle the extra people,” Mr Turnbull said.
National Trust director Graham Quint said the plans appeared to envisage ”a high-rise university that is more akin to the Sydney central business district than a gracious campus of exceptional significance”. He said the trust strongly opposed the demolition of International House for its historic, aesthetic and social significance and its rarity as a modernist design by architects Bunning & Madden.
Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore said she was concerned about the size and design approaches of the changes, urging a competition for buildings and a master plan for landscaping to allay these concerns. She said public transport options also needed exploring.
Dr Spence said the university was aware of the need to be a good neighbour and had requested the public consultation period extension to better address concerns. He said the university campus was not ”densely utilised” and each building would be subjected to a separate development application. (Sydney Morning Herald)