Trent University students will be facing a big decision come the spring referendum as both the university administration and the Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) have signalled their intentions to forge ahead with a plan to build a multi-million dollar multi-purpose students’ centre in the heart of Symons Campus.
The prospective students’ centre, which would most likely be situated to the south of Bata Library, between the parking lot and the Athletic Complex, would cost between $20 and $40 million and would house a mixture of common space, student services, and academic space.
The student centre has been under consideration by the university since at least 1990 with the most recent proposal dating its roots back to 2010. The student centre issue has been cited as a long term solution to Trent’s current space woes and would be a valuable amenity for attracting new students.
For the TCSA, the issue comes down to student space, says Ben Perry, the union’s Vice-President of Campus Life. “We need student space. It’s pretty well known that…[student space] is scarce here and there and it is routinely closed or cordoned off. Student space is a very high priority on this campus and its a problem that we need to solve if Trent wants to grow.”
Trent University President Steven Franklin agrees. He notes that a student centre has been the university’s “number one [capital] priority” for several years now. “I’d like to make sure that we have the chance to make this an institutional priority,” he says, “so that we can start thinking about academic space… [and] other kinds of functions that can be accommodated within the student centre.” Additional lecture halls are a priority that both he and Mr. Perry acknowledge would likely feature in such a building.
However, this plan hinges upon Trent’s undergraduate student population voting to approve a levy to fund the project. President Franklin explains that although the university will be financially involved in some capacity, a significant portion of the money will have to come from the students.
In return, the TCSA hopes to have direct control over a certain amount of building. What this might look like, noted Mr. Perry, “is something in the contract that says ‘[the university] only has control over these floors” while [the TCSA] retains control over the remainder of the space.
This all means that the student centre question is very likely to be reappearing on the TCSA’s upcoming spring referendum ballot. Last year the union put a one-time student centre levy on the ballot, which was ultimately voted rejected by the students.
This year, however, Ben Perry is confident that the union can get the votes it needs to move ahead with the project. He says that last year “there were rumours floating around about what the student centre would be, where it would be, who would have control over it.” He states that this time the union “need[s] to open up communication with students.”
In that regard the union is already appealing to students for their input on the project as they will be dedicating a full half of their fall AGM meeting on Monday, December 3 to discussing the student centre idea with their members. The meeting, which is scheduled for 7:00pm, will take place in the AJM Smith room of Bata Library and all undergraduate and consecutive education students are encouraged to attend.
Looking to the future, if the undergraduate students vote to accept the levy in the spring, President Franklin hopes that the university and the student union will move quickly to begin developing the project. He states that the timeframe for realizing the students centre would be around four to five years but that there is the possibility that the centre could be “modularized” and built in various stages over a longer period.
Franklin notes that there has already been significant philanthropic interest in the project as the university has received both an anonymous donation to cover the costs of the planning stages and a contribution from recently retired faculty member Prof. Deborah Berrill designated to go towards a student centre project.
In the meantime, the university has struck a task force to further examine the issue. The task force will have its first meeting on Monday, December 1 and is comprised of four students and four faculty with Mr. Perry, TCSA President Brea Hutchinson, Chaplain’s Spencer Anderson and Lady Eaton’s Kathleen Buchner comprising the student representation.