The fate of the Trent Central Student Association’s student centre proposal will be decided this week as Trent’s undergraduate population gets set to go to the polls for the annual spring levy referenda. The student centre issue has been one of the dominant stories of the 2012/2013 academic year with both the student union and the administration declaring it to be a top priority in advance of the university’s 50th anniversary in 2014.
Trent is currently one of only three Ontario institutions to not have a dedicated student centre on its main campus, a fact which TCSA president Brea Hutchinson says is damaging the university’s ability to recruit and retain students. Hutchinson argues that the proposed centre would go a long way towards alleviating the current space crunch that plagues Symons Campus.
“An external consultant was hired,” notes Hutchinson, “and what they found was… [that] we need spaces where people can socialize, we need student services to be more centrally located… we need a bigger lecture hall.”
The proposed student centre is purported to address all of these issues. According to a preliminary overview available on the TCSA’s website, trentcentral.ca, the centre would be located on the West Bank of the campus core between Bata Library and the Athletics Complex. It would have approximately 3,388 net assignable square metres (n.a.s.m.) of space which translates into approximately approximately two floors of Bata Library.
The space would be split based on the proportion of student/university funding and the building would likely become home for student support services (including the Academic Skills Centre, the Career Centre etc.), offices for student organizations, new seminar and lecture space, foodservice, and student common areas. Importantly, the university’s third-party contracts, including Aramark’s foodservice contract and Follett’s bookstore contract, would not be applied to the centre.
Contrary to last year’s referendum, in which the student centre question was narrowly defeated, the union is advancing the proposal through a split-level question. This means that students will receive a ballot in which students they will be asked to indicate whether they support an $85, $95 $105 levy for the project or no levy. Should a majority of the votes be cast for the student centre, the union will then average the dollar amount from the ballots cast in favour.
“The reason we did this,” explains Hutchinson, “is because we have competing interests in campus. We have people who want a really sustainable building with green roofs, green walls, and platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification while other who want something that is very affordable. This allows us to put the question of how cheap it should be or how green it should be in the hands of the voters.”
Should a majority of students vote ‘no’ then the project will not go ahead.
One area that the TCSA has been careful to address is that of the levy funding time-frame. Previously, a number of students aired concerns about how long it would take to construct the student centre, saying that they do not want to pay for a building that they would not be around to enjoy.
Speaking at the TCSA election speeches on Wednesday, union vice-president Tessa Nasca stated that the union has taken steps to address those concerns. According to her speech, although the levy may be passed this year, the TCSA will not move to collect begin collecting the levy from students “until [the university and the union] are ready to break ground” on the project.
However, should the project get the go-ahead from students this week Brea Hutchinson is hopeful that the university will move quickly to secure the necessary funding from the provincial government. She says that if all goes as planned the project could become a reality sooner than many expect.
“If the university can keep to their commitment [for funding], it is possible that we could open the sliding doors of the student centre for September 1, 2016.”
If the students reject the project, Hutchinson does not rule out the possibility of it being reintroduced in the coming years, saying instead that the decision will be up to future board of directors.
Voting for the referenda and TCSA elections is scheduled to takes place on March 25 and 26 outside Wenjack Theatre and March 27 and 28 outside Bata Library.