On February 3rd, an anonymous submission to Arthur Newspaper pulled back the curtain on Trent’s Athletic Center (AC). The document included information about the misspending of mandatory student fees, called for the right to opt out of athletic fees, and asserted many other allegations. Some of these have been dispelled, while others continue to concern the student body. The article attracted over 11,000 views online and sparked a lively debate among students on how their money is being spent. On February 14th, in response to an overwhelming student interest and call for action, Arthur met with Deborah Bright-Brundle, the current Director of the AC. Bright-Brundle assumed her position in July of 2014 and says she has been operating under a budget that she believed to be correct, balanced, and in accordance with the intentions of these fees.
During this interview, Arthur brought up the issue that has surfaced as the main topic of controversy since February, and the resulting gripe against the Athletic Centre. The issue at hand is concerning a 2004 student referendum decision to approve a $50 expansion fee to be included on every annual undergraduate tuition payment until the projects were complete. However, after Arthur did some digging on where this student money was being spent in the present day (with the Athletic Centre’s expansion long since complete), no clear answer has emerged how this revenue was to be handled.
In conversation with the AC Director, Arthur raised the concern that the revenue being accrued by this non-refundable student fee was not acting in accordance with the original intentions or “spirit” of the student capital fee. Since the fee is intended to be allocated solely to indoor and outdoor expansion projects, what expansion project is this fee currently going towards?
“The fee, as identified in my open letter, has been in effect since before I arrived in this position, so the information that I have been able to gather is for future growth and expansion goals.
“When I arrived, this fee was included in the budget for the athletics fee on top of the overall ancillary fee, but that’s all the information I have.”
The minutes of the abovementioned 2004 student referendum show that, under the leadership of former AC director, Bill Byrick, a $50 fee was approved by an overwhelming 87% of the student body to pay for expansion and future growth. On the subject of the fee’s duration, the minutes state the following:
“Another question was posed regarding the duration of the fee. Would the fee continue year after year or would it be terminated at some point once these projects were complete? Mr. Byrick indicated that he felt the fee would be needed for approximately fifteen years, but if the projects were completed ahead of schedule then he would, of course, terminate the collection of the fee sooner than that.”
With this in mind, since the fee is still being collected indefinitely, Arthur asked Bright-Brundle what projects of future expansion the fee currently goes towards. The Director replied first that she felt it would be inappropriate to comment on the minutes from 2004 as she was not involved in this process, however, she candidly provided a summary of the current Athletic Centre operating budget.
Unfortunately, this is where the water gets really muddy.
On February 27th, the TCSA called a special board meeting where Leslie Spooner, on behalf of the AC, gave a presentation regarding the collection and expenditure of the fee in question and stated that the AC is still paying off a mortgage of $11.9 million, with an annual interest payment of $842,970. With that said, it is not implausible that the entirety of the $50 fee from each student be put towards this balance, and this may be a justification for the continuation of the fee. However, in this same presentation, Spooner included a number of other expenses that this fee has been used for in the last three years. Such items as upholstering gym equipment, upgrading gym doors, repairing the rowing tank, and the scoreboard for Justin Chiu Stadium. So the question remains; are these justified expenses for this fee? It might be said that this entire controversy is centred on the degree of ambiguity around what is and is not a permissible use for this fee.
Here we will analyze the language surrounding the inception of the student capital fee. It is important to note that in all discussion points during the student referendum meeting minutes, the impending fee is introduced and explained as an “expansion fee to be used for expansion projects indoor and outdoor”, and then later defined more specifically as outdoor playing fields, Justin Chiu Stadium, and the addition to the existing AC. This definition is held true to the description of the Student Capital fee outlined below; however, when the question was put on the agenda for students to vote on it, was presented in the following way:
Do you support a non-refundable Athletics and Recreation Facility Improvement Fee of fifty dollars ($50.00) per year for full-time undergraduate students?
Below is the official definition of the general ancillary fee of $201 from the Compulsory Ancillary Fee Protocol Draft of 2006, followed by a description of what the expansion, or Student Capital Fee, will be directed toward:
Purpose: [To be used for] Athletics facility operations and maintenance, intramural programs.
Student Capital Fee:
Purpose: [To be used for] expansion of athletics facilities, indoor and outdoor.
These definitions correlate with the original spirit of the capital fee. It is clearly stated that upgrades were to be made with the revenue from this fee for outdoor fields and Justin Chiu Stadium, as well as the addition on the existing Athletics Centre. The way that the questions were posed to students, and the matter students were told they were voting on in 2004, do not quite match however.
What is more troubling about the presentation given by the Athletics Centre is that there were no monetary values included with any of these indications, nor the a specifically quantifiable description of the AC’s “improvements”, leaving TCSA members and students alike to use their own imagination to gauge the scope and cost of such items as “pool stairs”, “rowing tank repairs” “gym screen up-grades,” “door replacement,” or the highly ambiguous “planned pool upgrades”. These wide-ranging expenses raise another issue; it seems very clear that the student capital fee is being lumped into the overall revenue stream for the AC. Further, when TCSA members asked to see a full budget expense report indicating the specific pricing of the listed repairs, Spooner stated that she “did not have the budget on hand at this time,” and “didn’t want to get bogged down with the details.”
TCSA board members were also skeptical about who was being charged this fee. It is clear that undergraduate students have no option but to pay this fee annually with their tuition in full, however, Peterborough residents who are members of the AC are only required to pay this $50 fee one single time, when they first sign up.
The discussion of what to do about the existing collection of the fee was discussed at the February 27th special meeting of the TCSA, however, the final decision on whether to call a student referendum to cease collection of the fee beginning fall 2017, or to simply reword of the intentions of the fee, was tabled until the next TCSA meeting on March 12th, 2017. Please note that this is an open meeting and students are encouraged to attend and voice any concerns they may have.
It is important to stress that, as seen in the budget summary provided, the AC currently relies on this huge chunk of revenue ($329,000) annually from students in order to operate at full capacity. However, this does raise the question of where costs could and should be cut. It is hard to overlook certain lines of this budget summary, including the massive annual staff costs.
This arguably raises the concern that if the $50 fee is ever ceased, the AC will most certainly be looking to cut costs anywhere it can, and in situations like this, it is usually student positions that suffer.
For students that are interested, in response to these issues, the Athletics Centre will be hosting an information session on March 15th in the Gymnasium from 11am-12pm to address any questions or concerns from the student body regarding the $50 Student Capital fee, and how this fee should be dealt with moving forward.