Johannesburg - Citiq has acquired the bigger set of former Premier Milling grain silos in Newtown in Johannesburg following the completion of its R40 million Mill Junction project, which converted 10 former silos into trendy student accommodation.

Paul Lapham, the chief executive of the Gauteng-based property investment and management company, said yesterday that Citiq had acquired the bigger set of former grain silos, comprising 30 concrete pipes, and was now looking at developing the structures into affordable accommodation once its plans had been approved by the City of Johannesburg.

The Mill Junction project involved the conversion of 10 former grain silos in the Newtown precinct into rental rooms for 400 students from the University of Johannesburg, Witwatersrand University and other colleges in the city.

This development turned the former grain silos into apartment blocks with 10 floors of accommodation each, with four additional storeys added using shipping containers. The conversion involved cutting out windows from the massive silo walls and installing concrete slabs to make floors.

Lapham said the completed 14-storey buildings that towered over Newtown were proof of what could be achieved through creative design and leading-edge architecture.

This project also highlighted the possibilities that were opened up when the focus was put on renewable and energy-efficient architecture.

Lapham added that the grain silos had been standing abandoned for a long time and the project involved repurposing them into student accommodation that was well located for students attending the surrounding universities.

“Vacant land in city centres is hard to come by and repurposing the silos into student accommodation not only provides convenient and well-situated accommodation but also contributes to urban regeneration and making Newtown into a vibey and happening place.

“Apart from the contemporary design and the reuse of the existing silo structure, the apartments have energy-efficient features such as hot water from heat pumps, motion sensor lighting, double glazing on windows and external doors, energy-efficient lighting and water-pipe insulation.

“These initiatives have cut power consumption on the project to 50 percent of that used by a conventional building and will provide long-term savings for the students living there,” he said.

All the basics were covered by the project, including free wi-fi connections. There were study rooms and lounges, along with communal kitchens and bathrooms on every floor while the recreation space included a gymnasium, table tennis facilities and a snooker room.

He said official data indicated that about half of undergraduate students dropped out of university without completing their studies, with this high drop-out rate attributed to a lack of academic support, family pressure and inadequate assistance.

“We realised that if we could provide everything a student would need for a study-friendly and comfortable environment, we might be able to make a difference to their academic success.”

Lapham said Citiq was established in 2005 and owned 150 buildings around Gauteng that housed about 6 000 tenants. Half of the properties were normal residential rental apartments and half provided student accommodation.

The firm has a greenfield student residence project, the Ekhaya Junction student village, that is being built more conventionally with bricks and mortar on the hills above the Tshwane University of Technology in Pretoria West.

Lapham said this 32 000m2 project involved an investment of R300m and would provide accommodation for 2 300 students once completed.

Last year the company spent about R35m on maintenance and R140m on developments concentrated only in Gauteng. “In terms of new developments, we are concentrating on the Newtown area in Johannesburg and other locations close to universities.”

Lapham said financing for its projects was obtained from Futuregrowth Asset Management, an Old Mutual division that owned a share in the firm. - Business Report