"We plan to be here 100 years from now," says Scott Mabury, U of T's vice-president, operations and real estate partnerships. "This is a long-term strategy" (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn).
“There are no examples that I’m aware of where an institution, with its own internal team, has been embarking on as ambitious a plan as we are,” Mabury says.
“I think that the addition of “real estate partnerships” to the portfolio title is a reflection both of the importance of the initiative and acknowledgment of the spectacularly talented group of staff who invest their creativity, their energy, and their passion in the operations portfolio.”
Mabury joined U of T in 1995 as the first faculty member in environmental chemistry. He chaired the department of chemistry from 2003 to 2009 and is currently a professor in the department and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
His new title is vice-president, operations and real estate partnerships. He also serves as vice-provost of academic operations.
U of T News spoke with Mabury about his new role and the ways the university will be addressing its development and sustainability goals over the coming years.
What will your new role entail?
It entails all the work and the activities of the old role of university operations but adds to it our “four corners” strategy.
I am continuing to support the provost on budgetary matters, overseeing and being responsible for information technology and cyber security, facilities and services on the downtown Toronto campus, ancillary services, and university planning, design and construction.
The four corners strategy is designed to provide a framework for how the university will pursue real estate opportunities and partnerships in the development of the full range of institutional and ancillary uses necessary for a modern university – innovation spaces, ancillary office, retail, student, faculty and staff housing – all of which are essential to support the academic mission of the university into the future.
We have significant assets. We spent a year studying those assets and what their opportunities could be. We recognize the very significant demand and need U of T has around providing more affordable residential options for our faculty, staff and students, and more innovation space for the burgeoning number of startup companies that wish to continue their development within the innovation ecosystem, of which U of T plays such an important part.
- New student residences on U of T’s downtown Toronto campus and U of T Scarborough: “I am very excited about the student residences we are going to be building because the need for residences is very, very high.”
- The Landmark Project (which will pedestrianize King’s College Circle): “Retrieving and rehabilitating our historic core is an institutional, valuable thing to do.”
- The tall wood building at Bloor and Devonshire Place: “It will bring a very public, very high-profile move by the university to incorporate wood as a building material that we should be looking at routinely for each of the buildings we'll be building.”
- The innovation centre: “I think it will be a spectacular addition, not only to the architecture of Toronto, but also to the innovation ecosystem, of which U of T plays such an important part.”
- U of T Mississauga science building: “That will be transformative for the University of Toronto Mississauga.”
How unique is the four corners strategy compared to other institutions’ development initiatives?
Most other universities, when they embark on these things, create a separate development corporation apart from the university. The University of Toronto and the four corners strategy is keeping the team and the effort “inside the house” as part of my portfolio. These will be University of Toronto projects and initiatives.
The University of Toronto will seek out partnerships and joint ventures to build things like student residences – which is what we're doing with the Daniels Corporation. We will acquire properties if there are opportunities that align with the university’s mission, and we will build innovation spaces and explore partnering opportunities where appropriate.
The beauty of keeping it “inside the house” is we can tap into expertise and resources such as facilities and services, our IT group, and our ancillary services group, to deliver the services that one would expect from a market rate, commercial enterprise.
We have 17 million square feet of space across the three campuses. As we build another million or two or three, we can expand our facilities management to incorporate those in a quite efficient manner and at less cost than if we were outsourcing or starting from scratch.
There are no examples that I'm aware of where an institution, with its own internal team, has embarked on as ambitious a plan as we are.
How will economic and environmental sustainability play into the four corners strategy?
Almost the entire university budget – 87 per cent – comes from students paying tuition fees or government operating grants. That’s not financially sustainable. We need to grow the remaining 13 per cent, to increase the resilience and sustainability of the institutional budget.
Developing our real estate assets – land that we own and will continue to own – will deliver a double bottom line: delivering amenity spaces – residential, innovation, retail – that benefit the academy with a financial return to further the core academic activities of the university. The objective here will be to generate revenue that we can invest back into the university’s academic mission.
On the environmental sustainability side, all of these buildings will be required to meet the University of Toronto's design standards: attention to detail, the same attention to longevity, and the same attention to energy use – highly energy-efficient buildings. We have the most stringent energy guideline requirements for our buildings of any place in North America of which we are aware. These buildings will be university assets, and will be built to that standard.
U of T has a forward-looking approach to everything from innovation to financial and environmental sustainability. Why is it important for U of T to operate in this way?
We plan to be here 100 years from now. This is a long-term strategy. We are going to build buildings for current and future institutional needs, serve multiple functions and be repurpose-able in the future if need be.
We are in the talent business and we hear very clearly from the faculty and senior staff directly, and from students, that housing is an issue that they are thinking about. We need to deliver more housing. Our four corners strategy imagines something like 2,500 new units of housing – student, faculty and staff. Different kinds – laneway houses, midrise, highrise, in or on the University of Toronto campus. The scale of that is really quite significant. It's pretty darn unique in the university world.
It is imagining how real estate can support and advance the ambitions that we have as a collective of faculty, staff and students to influence the state of the world and the future of the world for the positive. We're trying to bring value to the table.
By Romi Levine