Gaps in res after ski staff leave
by Kylie Robertson
Cries of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!” will be met with silence this year in Mount Royal residence.
A partnership between Mount Royal Residence Services and Canada Olympic Park to house their international ski staff – the majority of whom were from Australia – has been halted after three successful academic years on campus. During the peak of ski season, staff lived in residence for six months.
Mount Royal Residence Services opened the doors to the apartments on the west side of campus in 2003. In doing so, they also opened the door to over $1 million in debt.
When Steven Fitterer was hired as residence manager in June 2005, he inherited a slight problem – a million dollar problem.
“With an obligation to pay a mortgage on a new building, we needed to find alternative non-student business,” Fitterer said.
Fitterer said he had to look for opportunities to bring non-residence students into Mount Royal to try to make the books balance; there wasn’t enough demand from the students for residence facilities. Fitterer attributed the lack of interest in residence to the school’s then-status as a college.
“If you’re from Red Deer, you don’t come to Mount Royal for two years then move onto the U of C,” he said. “You go to Red Deer College and then transfer to the U of C.”
So in 2006, Fitterer reached out to Canada Olympic Park to discuss the potential of housing non-local staff members over the ski season while they work at the hill.
Kim Nguyen, a police officer in his homeland Australia, participated in the program from 2008 to 2009, the last year the program was available.
“The connection between COP and MRU made it so much easier [for me],” Nguyen said. “We had organized transport for work. The housing was actually organized before we arrived in Calgary, so I didn’t have to look for a place when I got there. And because there were 35 other COP workers to mingle with, I made a great bunch of friends who I still keep in contact with. I met my wonderful girlfriend there, and will be moving in together soon. So it really worked out well for me.”
Nguyen was also offered the additional responsibility of being the resident adviser for the group of workers, and this allowed him to interact with the workers on another level.
“My residents were fantastic, I think overall they loved living at MRU,” Nguyen said. “The guys and girls formed great relationships, [and] I am aware of four guys in particular who are now on a reunion trip in Canada. These guys are awesome; they didn’t know each other before Canada and are now the best of friends.”
The program was not reinstated for the 2009-2010 academic year, because Residence Services anticipated an increase in demand for residence places by students.
“The last thing I wanted to do is put too many non-students in residence and turn away a Mount Royal student,” Fitterer said.
Residence Services expected more students to apply for a place in housing because of the transition from college to university, the degree programs, and the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) status that was achieved this year, according to Fitterer.
“I don’t regret making the decision, because it was an uncertainty and we didn’t want to take a risk,” Fitterer said. “There are still empty houses; perhaps we erred on the side of caution. We probably ended the program one year too early.”
There are still 50 empty spaces in residence for the winter 2010 semester, Fitterer said. Enrollment decreases in the winter, he added, and even if residences were full in September, it’s expected to have empty rooms in the winter.
But, with all the changes to the university, Fitterer doesn’t anticipate reinstating the program. More room is being made for Mount Royal students; a business that rented space on campus in east residence was not offered a renewal on their lease.
As a former employee, Nguyen said that the experience was invaluable, and was lucky to have been a part of it while it existed.
“I spent six months in COP/MRU, and I could talk for days about what I did there. But the basics are that I had a wonderful experience, and met great people. I worked in a friendly environment, the friendliest I’ve ever been in actually. I got life experience away from home. I met the girl I’m probably going to marry one day. I can’t complain about anything.”