As a part of their campaign contract, the executives of UTMSU who ran on the Students United pledged to obtain a commitment from the university’s administration to expand the Student Centre. Among promises such as lobbying for reduced parking fees and the credit/no credit policy, the UTMSU included that they “secured a commitment for a Student Centre expansion” on their poster of accomplishments in the Davis Building.
Since UTMSU first proposed expansion in 2007, and the project’s subsequent failure in 2009, the university has remained committed to pursuing an expansion plan. In the development of the new master plan, the document that identifies building opportunities on campus, the administration included a provision that would allow for a Student Centre expansion project.
In August, the UTMSU spoke with the administration about recommencing expansion plans. When Paul Donoghue, the Chief Administrative Officer, raised the matter with UTMSU again in September, they informed him that they were working on a space proposal. Last month, UTMSU president Vickita Bhatt reassured the board that UTMSU had been actively working with the administration on the project, but did not present any concrete updates.
When students returned to campus after Reading Week on February 28, UTMSU had posted their completed contract in the Davis Building; however, the administration did not receive a report on Student Centre expansion until March 2—after the contract was posted and after a member of the board began to inquire about overdue updates on the project.
According to Peter Buczkowski, Division III Director, the UTMSU struck a student committee at the beginning of the year to pursue the project, but only one meeting was advertised. Buczkowski was surprised when UTMSU executives announced at the last board meeting that they had made progress on the project.
“The UTMSU Board of Directors had no prior notice of this report, therefore did not formally vote on sending it,” said Buczkowski. “There is no mention of this report anywhere else that I could find, which is concerning. When I asked who created this report I was told that it was the Ministry of Student Services; however, no hard copies were ever distributed to the board until after the administration received them on March 2.”
The new report lacks concrete information, such as a space proposal, survey statistics, and a business plan.
“We agreed that [a revised space proposal] would be required if we wanted to restart the Project Committee and I indicated that I looked forward to working with them on their revised plans,” said Donoghue. “Although they did submit a Student Centre Expansion Report to vice president Saini on March 2, that report does not include a revised space proposal. They may still be working on that key element and I look forward to receiving it when it is ready.”
According to Bhatt, UTMSU conducted a student survey in September that was created by the Ministry of Student Services to identify key areas for expansion. Even though the university administration and Board of Directors did not receive a space proposal or survey results with the Student Centre Expansion Report, Bhatt claims that UTMSU has consulted with the original architect of the Student Centre and completed the proposal.
“Last year, Ian Orchard, UTM’s former vice president and principal, was opposed to the vision proposed by UTMSU of an expanded Student Centre,” Bhatt said. “I am pleased to announce that the administration agrees with our vision, and is actively supporting the Student Centre expansion, unlike last year. This is a huge step forward from the hard ‘no’ to the expansion last year.”
Constructed in 1999, the Student Centre is equipped to accommodate a student population of 6,000. The administration agreed to match 50 cents for every dollar funded by a student levy to finance the new building. Since then, student enrolment at UTM has nearly doubled. The building, home to the Blind Duck Pub, the UTMSU, club offices, and other student services, lacks the capacity to provide meeting, study, and leisure space for the rapidly increasing student population. With 30 clubs sharing the 15 club offices in the Student Centre and approximately 50 clubs without office space, the idea of expansion is popular among students involved in clubs and organizations like the Muslim Students’ Association and ECSpeRT.
In 2007, the UTMSU submitted a proposal to the University Affairs Board, the body of the Governing Council concerned with the quality of student and campus life, to persuade the administration that a Student Centre expansion is in the best interest of both the students and the university. The report, which included student survey results, a potential blueprint for expansion, and business suggestions, convinced the administration to pursue talks with the UTMSU and a Planning Committee was struck.
In 2009, the UTMSU and the university had difficulty negotiating food services. The university wanted UTM Food and Conference Services to manage food retail space in the newly renovated Student Centre. Instead, the UTMSU wanted to introduce new student-run eateries to increase food diversity, using the Blind Duck as an example. Unable to come to an agreement, the project was put on hold.
No negotiations on that matter have been undertaken by the UTMSU this year.
“We have received reports from UTMSU on other issues such as parking fees, but not on the Student Centre,” said professor Lee Bailey, chair of the Resources Planning and Priorities Committee. “The only discussion at RPPC this year that involves an expansion of the Student Centre would be the development of building envelopes as part of the campus master plan.”