It looked like smooth sailing for the Trent Central Student Association’s Student Centre proposal.
Less than four months ago, in late October, the TCSA executive laid out an optimistic two-year timeline at their semi-annual general meeting predicting that they would be cutting the ribbon on the new building by the start of the 2016-2017 academic year.
Since that time, however, the waters have been anything but calm.
The Student Centre project has suffered several funding-related setbacks as the Trent University administration has struggled to find the $7 million in external funding needed to tack on its promised 400 seat lecture hall, entrepreneurship centre, and wellness centre.
As Arthur reported last week, the TCSA and administration has officially decided to postpone their presentation to the Board of Governors from Jan. 31 to March 21, for a number of reasons, not least of which is to give both government and private donors more time to consider the project.
This week, new questions have been raised about the viability the Student Centre after it was revealed that the TCSA has not been entirely clear how much money the association has currently secured for the project.
Since last spring, when Trent undergrads passed the $95.01 levy question to fund the Centre, the TCSA executive has repeatedly told the Trent community that students are guaranteed a $14 million student centre.
TCSA President Ben Perry was quoted in an Oct. 15 Arthur article stating “right now we have a $14 million student centre and if the university comes to the table then it just expands from there.”
At the association’s general meeting on Oct. 29, he maintained that “right now we’re looking at a $14 million building and with the university we could look upwards of $21 million.”
Last week, however, Perry clarified that the levy approved is only enough to construct a student centre costing between $10.5 and $11 million.
Furthermore, if you include the projected 4.5 percent interest rate that number shrinks even further to only $10 million.
Responding to questions about this discrepancy, Perry explained that the original $14 million price tag is actually only an “absolute best case scenario,” since the remaining $4 million is still unsecured.
He said the total amount the TCSA will have to build the Centre depends on whether Trent’s Graduate Student Association (GSA) and Part-Time Student Association (TPSA) come on board with additional money.
The TCSA hopes to get both of those organizations on board this spring and is currently in talks with GSA leadership about running another levy question in the upcoming referendum.
The union pitched the Centre to the GSA membership last year, who rejected the proposal.
“I think that [last year’s loss] can be blamed on materials and marketing,” said Perry. “They didn’t have the information last year on the benefit of potentially having the GSA office or graduate student lounge [in the Centre] as well as the space that this would open up within the colleges.”
Despite not being guaranteed the additional funds, Perry says the TCSA remains 100 percent committed to moving forward with the project.
However, members of the university administration are already questioning whether or not the TCSA could actually go it alone should it fail to receive contributions from either the university or the other unions.
Trent’s Vice President of Finance Steven Pillar admits that he has asked Perry whether or not $10 million would be enough to give students all that they expect from the project.
“The TCSA would have to go back to the functional design and amalgamate things and cut some things out so that they could afford it,” he said.
“My question to [Perry] was: at that reduced level is it still worth it?”
When looking at comparable projects across the province Pillar’s remarks seem well founded. Recent student centres at other Ontario institutions have generally required larger budgets for their construction.
The newly opened Student Health and Wellness Centre at Sault College cost a total of $13.3 million to build, while closer to home the architecturally stunning Goldring Student Centre at the University of Toronto came with a price tag of $20 million.
Nonetheless, Perry argues that the Student Centre will be worth it even at a reduced scale. “$10 million still means a $10 million building that we don’t have on campus for student space,” he stated.
“Any student can see there’s a requirement for something.”
When asked what services or spaces would be on the chopping block if such a reduction was necessary he was less certain.
“We would look at losing some club space or programming space but I don’t currently know what we would need to emphasize or not emphasize. One thing I don’t want to lose is overall student space,” he said.
Approaching the one year anniversary of the Student Centre referendum one could question whether or not Trent’s student body is any closer to seeing this project become a reality.
Last summer’s third-party space/needs report assumed a total budget of $21 million; a 50 percent reduction to that number could quite literally send the TCSA and the University back to the drawing board.