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UBC spends $614K on president's crib

By Michael Mui, 24 Hours Vancouver

University of B.C. president Arvind Gupta got $614,000 in upgrades to his house in addition to a lease for a $37,000 hybrid vehicle after he was appointed the head of the education institution, according to records obtained via the freedom of information process.

24 hours was tipped off to the story after receiving an anonymous letter earlier this year suggesting the renovation expenses should be examined.

Staff at UBC said on Wednesday many of the upgrades are meant for the public portion of the Norman MacKenzie House — the president’s place — located off Northwest Marine Drive in the endowment lands.

The building is generally upgraded when a new president comes in, staff said, since there’s a brief period when no one is occupying the house during a transition.

Half the 6,400-square-foot building is dedicated for university events and is considered a “public” area, while the other half makes up Gupta’s private residence.

The renovations, however, also included a bounty of goodies outside of critical infrastructure upgrades needed to maintain the 64-year-old building.

Among the upgrades are four flatscreen TVs costing nearly $10,000 in total — all larger than 55 inches — one went in his private study, one in the workout room and one in his bedroom. The last went to a shared multimedia room in the public area.

UBC public affairs managing director Susan Danard, who invited 24 hours to tour the home on Wednesday, said that many of the TVs are needed since the president must always be on top of the latest news.

“We got students and faculty all over the world and researchers engaged with us all over the world. A challenging part for us is staying on top of everything,” she said.

In total, technology and entertainment upgrades to the home cost $93,207.

The pricetag included sound systems for the entire interior, Apple TV for the television units, a pair of iPad set-ups worth more than $900 each, nine outdoor speakers and, of course, new cabling and wiring.

The most expensive piece was the heating unit being replaced and air conditioning being installed for the entire house — that bill came to $178,179.

Some furniture brought in included an entire outdoor set, complete with an “antique” table made of harvest distressed wood. This set came in at $20,482. Meanwhile, the cost to move a pool table — already owned by Gupta — to his new digs cost $3,900 alone. Staff said he brought the table so it could be enjoyed by visiting students during functions and events.

As for the car, staff said every incoming president is allowed one — Gupta got a 2014 Honda Accord Hybrid.

Many of the upgrades were necessary to maintain the older building. According to John Metras, managing director of infrastructure development at UBC, some of the floors replaced were so bad they became a tripping hazard for people wearing high heels.

Carpets were old and needed replacing, plumbing had to be refreshed, fixing cracks in the walls, and so on.

Some of those needed upgrades, such as repainting the building exterior, Metras said, hadn’t been addressed since the 1980s.

Metras said the building did receive some less significant interior renos in 2006 when then-president Stephen Toope moved in and new rooms had to be created for his young family.

He said the project to renovate the house actually came in under budget — the whole building is worth about $2.3 million. The initial budget was $700,000 and was funded through UBC’s operating budget for capital maintenance, Metras said.

“The IT, AV and furnishing aspects are all quite typical of what we’d expect of an institutional standard,” he said. “I don’t think there’s anything we would view as luxury — it’s really providing the needs of both the public spaces in the building and the private residence.”

UBC also hosts about 50 events per year at the facility — at least one event a month involving students, Danard said — and part of the upgrades were to better accommodate guests. For example, a disabled persons’ washroom was added.

A more recent major reception held was for Peter Allard, a lawyer and UBC graduate who donated $30 million — the largest donated sum the school’s ever received — in January.

Gupta was in Ottawa on Wednesday and unavailable for comment, staff said.


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