UTMSU has called a referendum for students to vote on whether they approve of a fee increase—beginning with a temporary increase of $75 per fall/winter year, to a total of $100—to expand the current Student Centre. After the initial three years, the temporary increase will end, but a permanent increase of $21 will remain in effect for a total of $46 per year.
According to UTMSU’s president, Christopher Thompson, the expansion project would cost $4 million, with the university matching the $2 million garnered in student levies towards financing the capital project.
Currently, students pay $12.50 per session to UTMSU. UTMSU is proposing a temporary increase of $27 per session for three years to cover the costs of the Student Centre’s expansion to generate the $2 million that the university would match.
UTMSU is also asking for a permanent increase of $10.50 per session (including the initial three years) “to provide an appropriate level of capital reserve to maintain the operations of the Student Centre and to fund additional programming and activities in it”, according to the preamble on UTMSU’s website.
Next week, full-time undergraduate UTM students and Faculty of Medicine students affiliated with UTM will have a chance to vote yes or no on the fee increase for the Student Centre, which is owned by the university and managed by UTMSU.
“If the referendum fails, which we hope will not happen, the UTMSU Board of Directors and the university will be notified that students are not willing to support an expansion of the Student Centre, and we lose the agreed $2-million match,” said Thompson. “I believe that funding [would] disappear fairly quickly. We risk losing this opportunity.”
The increase will “account for additional costs that are associated with managing and sustaining the expanded Student Centre long-term,” said Thompson. “UTMSU receives deferred maintenance reports from the university, which helps to guide us on how to prepare for expenses which come up over time and even sometimes unexpectedly. An example that I have been sharing with students is a large expense of over $130,000 that will be going toward repairs to the Student Centre roof this summer.”
Thompson said that the current fee has allowed UTMSU to sustain the Student Centre and its operations.
Thompson said that the current level of student contribution has allowed UTMSU to sustain the Student Centre and its operations.
“It is important for the UTMSU to be just as responsible as our predecessors in ensuring we can afford to build the building, but more importantly sustain it long term and provide for more students and higher demands,” added Thompson. “Furthermore, with the addition of more multipurpose rooms, more space, and opportunities for clubs and societies, and an extended Blind Duck, the programming within the Student Centre would increase, which means the expansion has a strong correlation with a positive increase in programming opportunities,” said Thompson.
When asked about the forecasted maintenance costs, Thompson said, “We would like to maintain our Student Centre on a regular basis and not defer maintenance costs, because that will not resolve the problems. The Student Centre is 14 years old. If we do not plan for regular maintenance, the costs of deferred maintenance could reach unacceptable levels.”
The expansion project is a cash-in-hand project, meaning the university must be assured that students are committed to the project through the referendum.
UTMSU addresses students’ concerns on utmvoteyes.ca, a website they created to inform students of the referendum and to encourage them to vote yes.
One concern students have is that they will graduate before the new Student Centre is built.
“I feel like it’s the whole U of T thing, like standing on the shoulders of giants,” said Lily Bowman, a third-year UTM student in the professional writing and communication program. “Things are developing on campus that I won’t get to see. I feel a little upset that I won’t be around to see that. It’s coming out of my pocket, but I won’t be around to see the changes on campus.”
UTMSU is only allowed to solicit private donors after the student referendum passes. Should the referendum pass, the Office of Advancement can put in a request to add the Student Centre expansion to their list of donor projects, and if donors are interested, the temporary fee increase of $27 could be lowered.
The current Student Centre, which was constructed in 1999 to serve only 6,000 students, was built after the administration agreed to match 50 cents to every dollar funded by a student levy. Enrolment at UTM has nearly doubled since then.
The Student Centre expansion would see an addition of 18 to 20 office spaces, additional multipurpose space, and a complete renovation to the Blind Duck Pub, the only food vendor on campus not owned by Chartwells. Currently, 80 clubs and societies have no office space in the Student Centre.
UTMSU first proposed expansion in 2007 by submitting a proposal to the University Affairs Board, the body of the Governing Council concerned with the quality of student and campus life. The extensive report, which included a potential blueprint for expansion, caught the attention of the administration and a planning committee was struck.
The project failed in 2009 when UTMSU and the university had difficulty negotiating food services. The university wanted UTM Food and Conference Services to manage food retail space in the new Student Centre, but UTMSU wanted to introduce new student-run eateries to increase food diversity. The two parties were unable to reach an agreement and the expansion project stalled.
Last February, the administration rejected an 80-page proposal from UTMSU for an expanded Student Centre, calling the proposal unreasonable. The proposal included a blueprint describing a space of over 130,000 square feet—only slightly smaller than the Instructional Centre, which cost $70 million. The university recommended a smaller expansion project and offered to finance up to $2 million.
UTMSU submitted a revised proposal to the university on August 14. The proposal was approved in principle on October 4, when the university and UTMSU committed to working on an MoU, which would summarize the priorities of the project and the commitment of both parties to a $4-million project, with each party contributing half.