Official opening of the USC multi-level car park - University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Official opening of the USC multi-level car park

15 Jul 2015

15 July 2015

Roy and Nola Thompson, distinguished guests and members of the USC community, welcome to a very special day. And at this time I acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which I work and live, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. I pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

My role here today is to address the significance of the car park and the gift from the Thompsons.

First I’d like to talk about parking — I know Roy’s not really interested in parking or car parks per se but I spend a lot of time thinking about it — a lot of time, especially at night.

For a university like ours industry benchmarks suggest that ideally we need about 300 parking spaces for every 1,000 students — we currently have around 12,000 students and 3,000 car parks so at this moment in time we’re doing reasonably ok — given this instant injection of 500 new spaces courtesy of Roy and Nola.

However, the problem is we’re growing at 1000+ students per year so we need to manufacture 200 to 300 new parks each and every year – unless something dramatic happens with getting students and staff onto public transport or bikes or mixtures of the two.

Christian Dickson (Division 6 Councillor, Sunshine Coast Council) and I had a discussion about this a couple of weeks ago — park and ride, bikes on buses, more direct express routes. How do we get more students out of cars — and stop them creating parking chaos over at Chancellor College and Chancellor Park in general to avoid paid parking on campus? 

We also run our own shuttle bus services from Gympie, North Lakes, Noosa, Caloundra and Caboolture — to reduce reliance on cars and make it easier for students who can’t afford to run their own cars to study with USC.

We’re working on all this but it’s slow work and there’s relatively primitive public transport networks on the Coast so cars will always be the major part of the mix.

Similarly, we can’t continue to clear green space for car parks or we’ll end up with a totally urban campus. This doesn’t fit with the USC mission or, for that matter, the mission of the Sunshine Coast community. We’re aiming for 20,000 students by 2020 so we need to stack cars vertically rather spreading them out at ground level. This is our first multi-level car park but it can’t be the last.

In 2013 we introduced paid parking — something that earned me anti-hero status overnight. But between new car parks and maintaining existing ones we were spending over $1 million per year and we couldn’t afford to maintain these increasing cost without at least some contribution from users – unless we compromised on the quality of the educational experience we provided to students and we were never going to do that.

Enter Roy and Nola Thompson. The Thompsons have a real passion for the Sunshine Coast and disadvantaged youth. They’ve donated large amounts of scholarship money for quite a few years now. But being the businessman that he is, Roy looked for a model where his philanthropy would be ongoing. He knew the type of return he could get from the banks and talked to us about doing something that would benefit the University, while also delivering the scholarship funds he was interested in. We did a deal — the Thompsons and the University both put in $5 million to build this fine structure and USC committed to a parking revenue stream that will fund the Thompson Scholarships for decades to come.

This year we commenced the first batch of the top level Thompson Scholarships (4 x $32,000 each) that will not only ensure the recipients have the financial resources to concentrate on their studies, but also help ensure we are able to keep the Coast’s very best students here on the Coast – previously we haven’t been able to compete with the scholarships offered by the metropolitan universities. Thanks to the Thompsons and other very generous donors, we now can.

Our University is very aware that our role is to ensure that our community has access to degree level study in the key, bread and butter, programs that they’re interested in — if you can’t do it at USC, add an extra $20k per year cost to heading south — and it isn’t on an interest free loan basis as is the case with HECS-HELP, which is the student contribution towards tuition costs — it’s real up-front money for lodging, food and transport etc — the vast majority of Sunshine Coast families can’t operate in an environment like this — we need to provide for our own.

And this building is part of that story. The University acknowledges the wonderful generosity on the part of the Thompsons, and generosity that will continue for a generation or more through this car park. Thank you so much to the two of you and I hope, as I know you do, that this largest ever gift to the University of the Sunshine Coast will get other members of our community thinking about how they too can leave a lasting legacy to the Sunshine Coast and its community, through supporting the University.

And I trust I’m not mis-representing Roy here but I know he appreciates that the university isn’t just about the Coast workforce of the future and assisting community members reach their career goals. The university contributes to the Coast economy, in a major way, each and every year – we create new jobs on the Coast every year.

Our last assessment indicated we contribute over $500million per year to the regional economy. As we grow that contribution will grow and of course we’ll need more car parks — and that I think is a good place for me to stop.

Very sincere thanks again Roy and Nola we hope you are satisfied with this structure, even if it does look a bit flash, Roy, and what it is already contributing to the Thompson scholarship funds. At the end of the day, the Thompson / USC partnership is all about ensuring we get maximum leverage in building a more prosperous future for our region. And I reckon Roy and Nola know exactly how to achieve this

Roy and Nola Thompson at the opening of the Multi-level car park