Roughly 20 students attended the meeting which was dedicated both to presenting the union’s financial statements from the past year and discussing the future of the multi-million dollar student centre project.
The meeting was facilitated by TCSA President Ben Perry who first steered the membership through a presentation of the association’s 2012-2013 financial records. Perry noted that the association has decided to change its fiscal year to run from August to August rather than from April to April. This change, he explained, will allow the union to consolidate next year’s semi-annual general meetings into a single annual general meeting hopefully resulting in better attendance and more clarity among the student body.
The association’s financial documents were released to the membership in advance of Tuesday’s meeting and there were few questions from the students concerning the statements.
Perry noted that the TCSA achieved a budgetary surplus for the last fiscal year, a first for the organization in five years. Responding to one question from a student to account for the surplus, TCSA Operations Director Tracy Milne explained that it was the result of the scheduling changes to the Trent Express implemented last year as well as an overall reduction in spending by the organization.
Following the presentation of the financial statements Perry provided a detailed update on the student centre project, giving a project overview and re-affirming the union’s commitment to moving forward regardless of university assistance.
He revealed that the union is planning to collect the $95.01 student centre levy at the beginning of the 2014/2015 academic year pending the completion of preliminary plans and architectural drawings. He stated this was decided in order to insure that an appropriate amount of work is done before students pay.
“We’ve seen cases in which universities collect levy fees from students for a number of years and no work gets done on the student centre,” he said. “We want to get as much work done as possible before collecting the levy.”
If the project is able to proceed according to plan the TCSA expects to break ground as early as June 2015 and have the centre open in time for the start of the 2016/2017 school year.
The student centre issue drew both questions and criticism from the attendees about whether there was a need for such an amenity on Symons Campus and how the TCSA’s handled the referendum campaign.
One student commented that TCSA had not done a good enough job informing the student body of the details of the project in advance of the referendum vote. She said that many students are still not aware of the student centre project even though the question has already been passed and the money is slated to be collected.
Perry responded to this criticism by stating that even though the referendum question passed, the association is still looking to engage students in the discussion about what they want to see in the building.
“The biggest thing I want to emphasize is that the conversation on the student centre is not over,” he said. “Students will be seeing us around and talking with us. We want to get student opinion on the issue.” He explained that the TCSA is looking to mount an outreach campaign in the coming months to solicit student opinion on the design, location, and make-up of the student centre.
One surprise of the meeting was an update given by Richard Morgan, Trent University’s senior advancement director, in which it was noted that preliminary surveys by the department of external relations and advancement indicate that alumni are not significantly interested in contributing money towards the student centre project. The results are “not particularly encouraging,” said Morgan.
He explained that the department asked alumni how they would allocate percentages of their donation dollars and found that the student centre generated the lowest level of philanthropic interest. “Out of a dollar there was only 11 cents that alumni would allocate to the project,” he reported.
However, Morgan praised the TCSA and student leadership for forging ahead, saying that the student centre is a project that generations of Trent students have wanted to realize. “The student leadership around this [project] has been amazing. This is students divining this project, designing it, driving it, and wanting to see it happen.”
After the meeting Perry expressed satisfaction with the proceedings saying that it is important for Trent students to understand what student leaders are doing with their money.
“I think it was a good meeting,” he stated. “I loved hearing the reaction of people and we had a few who were under the impression that the student centre conversation has ended. I am glad that we got the opportunity to say that it’s not.”
The TCSA will hold its second general meeting in February.