Archive pic from Linnanmaa campus.

The University Board of Directors made a decision: project planning for a campus in the city centre begins, planned location is the shopping mall area of Raksila

The Board of Directors of the University of Oulu decided on Tuesday 28 April to start project planning for a new campus, located closer to the city centre.
There are hopes that the new campus increases the attractiveness of the University when competing for students, as well as decreases carbon footprint, and improves accessibility.

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Text Anni Hyypiö

Kuvat Anni Hyypiö

In Finnish

The University of Oulu will begin project planning to build a new campus near the city centre of Oulu. The Board of Directors decided on the issue in their meeting on 28 April.

According to the bulletin by the University, the planning stage is estimated to last for about a year. The University will propose to the City of Oulu that the local plan for the Raksila area will be changed.

Architect Rainer Mahlamäki, who has also acted as a professor at the University of Oulu, has created a preliminary plan on how the new university campus would fit in the shopping mall area of Raksila. According to these preliminary plans, the buildings that create the campus would fit inside this area.

There is also space for future projects in Raksila, though decisions on these would have to be made later and separately.

The decision made on Tuesday means that the University wants to build a new campus nearer to the city centre. However, the scale and timetable for the move from the Linnanmaa campus is unclear at this moment. The agenda for the board meeting mentioned only building the first stage of the campus, and that construction would take place gradually or in stages during the next 5 to 20 years.

The project planning starting now is for a campus of a floor area of 30,000 square metres. The University currently utilises 114,000 square metres at Linnanmaa. The difference is enormous. 

The decision does not mean that all the activities of the University would be concentrated at the new city centre campus. It is also guaranteed that studying and research at Linnanmaa will go on for years.

There are plenty of open questions, as now the project planning stage is only beginning. Rector Jouko Niinimäki estimates that acquiring the necessary building permits might be some 3.5 years away. The construction phase itself should take a few years.

Thus, if everything goes according to plan, studying at Raksila could begin at 2027, or at the latest in 2028.

Niinimäki says he is really excited about starting the project planning.

“There have been some worries that we would leave Linnanmaa in one fell swoop. That is not happening. With the project scale being smaller, the worries should be alleviated.”

Rector Niinimäki, the Chair of the Board of Directors Sakari Kallo, and the Director of Urban and Environmental Services for the City of Oulu Matti Matiheikki informed the media on the decision on Tuesday 28 April right after the board meeting.

The new university campus is proposed to be located in the area between the wooden houses of Raksila and the Oulu cemetery next to the Kajaanintie street. Picture: Ville Honkonen.

THE PROPERTY ANALYSIS STARTED IN NOVEMBER AS THE BASIS

The now-made decision was based on the property strategy analysis the University conducted. The aim of the analysis was to find “financially sustainable, long-term university property solutions that support the University’s operations.”

The analysis included three options: maintaining the current building stock, partial demolition and reconstruction of the current buildings on the current campuses, and new construction near the city centre of Oulu. The analysis evaluated the financial, functional, and societal impacts of all the alternatives.

According to the University, the comparison between the alternatives proved that the most viable options were upkeeping the current Linnanmaa building stock and new construction near the city centre.

The cost analyses for the different options were based on the calculations by construction management consultant companies A-insinöörit oy and WSP Finland oy which were conducted individually and without connection to each other. A comparison was also carried out to the actual costs of a similar-sized project from Helsinki, as the Metropolia University of Applied Sciences acquired their new premises in 2019 in Myllypuro.

According to Jouko Niinimäki, the result of the analysis shows that by building new in the city centre there is a chance of achieving a solution that is neutral in terms of investment costs, compared to the upkeep of the current Linnanmaa campus.

Calculations show that the rental prices at the city centre campus would be on a lower level than the current projections for the prices at the Linnanmaa area.

There are multiple options for financing the building project, according to Niinimäki. The landlord and owner of the Linnanmaa campus, the University Properties of Finland (Suomen Yliopistokiinteistöt, SYK), will be an “important partner for the University” in the future as well, continues Niinimäki. There are multiple alternatives for the new campus, such as building it without partners, in co-operation with someone else, or with a leasing agreement. Niinimäki states that the funding for the project will be preliminary discussed during the project planning phase.

According to Sakari Kallo, the Chair of the Board of Directors, the decisions regarding the funding and finances of the project will be made in time in the board meetings. When the project planning is finished, it is time to make decisions.

An outline by architect Rainer Mahlamäki displaying how the campus could fit inside the Raksila shopping mall area. The buildings in the picture are not what the campus would look like, but they are there to show whether it is possible to fit the wanted square space on the plot of land in the first place. On the foreground there are the planned Tervatynnyri buildings (“Barrells of Tar”) that won the design competition for the station area.

NEW CAMPUS HOPED TO INCREASE THE APPEAL OF THE UNIVERSITY

In November, the bulletin by the University and an article in the newspaper Kaleva (13 November 2019) that broke the story stated that the primary reason for the proposed analysis was the high cost of rent the University is paying for the properties. According to the University, the price for the properties is their second largest expense, after human resources.

After November, it has been brought up more and more that the new campus and its location would increase the appeal and attraction of the University.

For example, Rector Jouko Niinimäki stated in an interview for the Oulu Student Magazine (27 February 2020) that in order to attract students, the University should increase its appeal. A good student experience is an integral part of the attractiveness. Other reasons for the project, as mentioned by Niinimäki, are also the decreased carbon footprint and easier access to the campus.

On Tuesday 28 April, Rector Niinimäki brought up again the attractiveness of the new campus, the smaller carbon footprint, as well as improved accessibility compared to the old campus as the deciding factors, along with the issue of high costs. The population projections as well as expectations towards the University also play a role.

Utilising the spaces on the new campus can be very different to the current premises at Linnanmaa, Niinimäki ponders.

The corona crisis has moved learning and teaching to virtual spaces and online environments, so why not carry on with these new practices after the situation has passed?

“There is a good reason to ask if the world is heading the way that the time of mass lectures is over, and we are moving more and more towards small group teaching and student-centred situations. The project planning phase will be fascinating.”

The plans have also received a fair share of criticism. The ex-rector of the University, Lauri Lajunen, has written opinion pieces to both the newspaper Kaleva as well as Forum24, criticising the project. A cause for worry has also been the co-operation between the University and the companies in the Linnanmaa area, as well as what can be done with the emptying campus in Linnanmaa.

Pertti Huuskonen, the former CEO of Technopolis, pondered in an interview in the newspaper Kaleva (7 March 2020) that the Linnanmaa building could host the “largest flea-market in the Nordic countries.”

SYK IN DISCUSSION ABOUT CO-OPERATION

Sanna Sianoja, the CEO of the University Properties of Finland (SYK), said that the company has been doing their own “scenario analysis” after the possible move by the University became public knowledge.

SYK owns, builds, and develops building stock for higher education institutes outside the capital region of Finland. The company is co-owned by nine universities outside the Helsinki area along with the State of Finland. The University of Oulu has a 10.41 % share of ownership.

Therefore, the University of Oulu is a tenant under SYK, but also partly owns the company. According to Sianoja, both parties have had discussions how to increase the attractiveness of the University.

“Building something new is a process that takes multiple years. It is a good thing that we can think this issue together and in a controlled fashion. You could say that the future looks interesting. It requires plenty of work, but now something new and good can be created.”

“Furthermore, from the viewpoint of SYK, we still own the Linnanmaa campus and rent it, and this means plenty of discussions.”

SYK presented its vision for the Linnanmaa campus during the spring. The plan by an architecture company, titled the Heart of Linnanmaa (Linnanmaan Sydän), was shown in the Kaleva on 4 March. Sianoja states that SYK thinks that the activities in Linnanmaa could be concentrated near the centre of the building, and this location could have modern, new architecture.

Sianoja says there are multiple benefits for modernising the current spaces.

“We should take advantage of what we already have and build something on top of that. The effect will be ‘wow’! So, let’s base our plans on the old, but with good architecture. SYK wants to be a responsible company, and the best way to achieve this is if we can use the existing frame to create something great, fit for future users as well.”

In November 2019, the focus in the meeting of the University Board of Directors was placed on the rental costs the University is forced to pay.

Has SYK negotiated with the University of Oulu during this spring about possibly lowering the rental prices?

“The signals from the Rector have been that the situation is not about decreasing the rental costs but increasing the attractiveness,” Sianjoa states.

According to Sianoja, the stakeholder agreement defines the criteria which are used for calculating the rental prices. The criteria are same for all the universities. Although Sianoja also says that when comparing the universities with each other, there are usually also examples of premises and spaces that that are more expensive than normal.

“However, looking at the average rental price, the University of Oulu and all the other universities are on the same line.”

“What we as SYK don’t see is what the University charges internally. Occasionally, we receive feedback from individual Faculties that a space can be expensive, but it is hard for us to comment on the internal pricing of the University.”

OULU UAS CONTINUES WITH THE MOVE, DESPITE THE NEWS

The Oulu University of Applied Sciences (Oulu UAS) decided to move to the Linnanmaa campus in October 2016. The campuses from Teuvo Pakkala and Kotkantie are moving to the Linnamaa campus during the year 2020.

The University of Oulu is a majority shareholder of Oulu UAS, and the two higher education institutes are part of the same group. The higher education institutes have been planning how to organise shared services and teaching. Rector Jouko Niinimäki is also the Chair of the Board of Oulu UAS.

The Rector of Oulu UAS Jouko Paaso states that the decision made by the University Board of Directors does not affect the move.

“We are continuing on with the actions that we have planned for a long time. During the summer, we will move to Linnanmaa, apart from the social and health care departments that will stay in Kontinkangas.”

Oulu UAS has a rental agreement with SYK that lasts until 2040. Paaso states that the plan is to adhere to the agreement and commitment to the location.

“If you think about the University moving closer to the city centre, it will happen in multiple stages. Of course, the University is a majority shareholder of Oulu UAS, and it will remain to be seen how that will affect the location of us. So far, we have no other plans. If the owners declare that we should move, the decisions will be made later.”

The plans by the University have not affected the plans of Oulu UAS.

“The main idea behind the decision [to move to Linnamaa] was that the end-result will be an innovation hub, and a strong collaboration between different parties. At this moment, the planned move by the University is an entirely different matter from our plans and aims for the future.”

Even though the corona crisis has affected working at the campuses, the renovations of the Linnanmaa campus for Oulu UAS have not been halted.

“At the beginning of March, we visited the new spaces, and information technology has already moved there. It seems that the renovations and modifying the spaces for us have stayed on schedule. The current plans outline that the move will be done during the summer in multiple stages,” Paaso states.

NOT JUST LOCATION BUT COMMUNALITY AS A FACTOR

Most of the activities of Oulu UAS will be moved to Linnanmaa during this year. There have also been a few internal relocations within the Linnanmaa campus. In the past few years, the architecture students moved from the city centre to Linnanmaa, and the Faculty of Humanities and the Faculty of Education relocated inside the campus building.

The Student Union of the University of Oulu (OYY) has previously stated that the Student Union views the changes in a somewhat positive way. This statement is echoed by Eetu Leinonen, the Chair of the Board.

One positive possibility of the move is the increased communality between the students of the campuses of Linnanmaa and Kontinkangas, as the distance between the two campuses would decrease by multiple kilometres.

“Now would be a time to deliver the goods and include all the parties and users of the premises in the discussions.”

Leinonen elaborates that as different working groups are established, each one of them must have student representatives from various faculties. The Student Union as well as the student organisations and the staff must be involved in the process, as well.

According to Leinonen, the location of the campus itself does not increase the attractiveness of the University. The premises must also be fit for the purpose of studying and conducting research, but also to increase communality.

“The communality of the higher education institutes plays a major part in increasing the attractiveness. This means good spaces for teaching and learning, but also communal spaces, such as guild rooms for the student societies.”

Leinonen says that he has not heard much feedback from the students regarding the plans. Some students have wondered at the timing of the plans: just as Oulu UAS is coming to Linnanmaa, the University itself will move away.

“What I understand is that the shared campus will remain, and that is important. It is also vital that different faculties will not be spread out all over town.”

Eetu Leinonen also notes that the University has given rather few options what to do with the emptying spaces of Linnanmaa.

“I think the University should act responsibly in this matter. Sure, the premises are owned by SYK, but the University is one of the shareholders of the company. Responsibility is something that must be kept in mind from the start of the project.”

SHIFT OF FOCUS FOR STUDENT HOUSING

There are large-scale projects in the Linnanmaa area, as the area is being prepared for the shared campus for the two higher education institutes. The preparations for the growth of the area include improving the public transport as well as improvements regarding cycling.

The decision reflects also on student housing. Juha Aitamurto, the CEO of PSOAS (the student housing foundation), states that the changing situation forces PSOAS to adapt as well.

The focus on student housing moves from Linnanmaa to the city centre and Raksila: “Let’s see if we could build housing right at the centre of the campus.”

According to Aitamurto, PSOAS has multiple apartment buildings in Linnanmaa on both Paavo Havaksentie and on Yliopistokatu. The rental agreements for these buildings will end by the year 2037. It would have been more expensive to renovate them than to build something entirely new. With the recent decision by the University Board of Directors, the new houses will be built to a new location.

In the student housing area of Välkkylä, PSOAS has been planning a high-rise project called Uno. The plans for Uno are well underway, and going forward with the project can happen rather quickly now, according to Aitamurto.

In 2018, PSOAS bought an empty office building from Technopolis in Linnanmaa, and this building has been renovated to house exchange students. The reason for acquiring this building was the move by Oulu UAS to Linnanmaa.

According to Aitamurto, the apartments in Tutkijantie 2 are not wasted, as they guarantee enough housing options for the transfer period. He thinks it is essential that during the transitional period student housing is also ensured.

WHAT HAPPENS TO LINNANMAA?

Director of Urban and Environmental Services Matti Matinheikki says that the decision of building a new campus is a large opportunity for both Oulu and northern Finland.

The campus solution will affect the housing market, city planning, and traffic flows.

On Tuesday 28 April, the city of Oulu informed that it will support and assist the project plan by the University. During the planning, the city, in conjunction with the University, will explore the possibilities and the preconditions the planned move includes.

The city says that the location of the campus will influence the design and planning of the shopping mall area of Raksila, as well as the sports park of Raksila. During the planning phase, there will be multiple challenges that the city wishes to overcome, in order to help the University to move to the area.

Matti Matinheikki also calls for everyone to keep their cool: the decision for planning was just made, and there are plenty of things to figure out yet.

“As we think about developing the city centre, we must also keep thinking the development of Linnanmaa.”

Jouko Niinimäki also emphasises that the University is not leaving Linnanmaa any time soon: “Linnanmaa has served us well and will continue to do so.”

The University is dedicated to the development of the area, Niinimäki says.

If the new campus could be taken into use within the next 7 or 8 years, when would the last students leave Linnanmaa? This is something Niinimäki does not want to get into at this point.

STREET PLAN CHANGES PLANNED AT KONTINKANGAS

The decision made by the University Board of Directors does not include the Kontinkangas campus located near the Oulu University Hospital. The Kontinkangas campus houses both the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine.

There is also a planned change in the street plan of the Kontinkangas area.

The change is based on two applications: the University Properties of Finland has applied to develop “the university campus into a diverse entity in collaboration with the parties at the campus, as well as to support the development projects of the Northern Ostrobothnia Hospital District.” The Hospital District has applied for changes in the local plan of the area for the construction of a new parking building as well as a hotel for patients. These building plans are part of the Future Hospital 2030 project.

The news was broken by the newspaper Kaleva (7 April 2020). In the interview, Rector Niinimäki stated that at the moment the University does not have building plans at Kontinkangas. Nevertheless, “at some point” a property analysis will be started for the Kontinkangas campus as well. This analysis will be used to identify and explore future options.

Niinimäki confirmed this in a statement during the media briefing held on 28 April. Thus, there are some preliminary musings regarding the Kontinkangas campus, but no decisions will be made on the matter yet.

Translation: Kalle Parviainen

Published 29.4.2020

Anni Hyypiö

Oulun ylioppilaslehden väistyvä päätoimittaja. Twitter: @AnniHyypio

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