Student union building on shaky ground

Board of governors halts funding to the proposed new $10-million project.

By Matt DiMera
[news editor]

Plans for a new student union building (SUB) have been put on hold indefinitely after the Kwantlen board of governors cut off university funding for the project.

The board of governors passed a motion at their Sept. 21 meeting ordering that they “cease further expenditures for the Student Union Building until the board deems it appropriate.”

A potential location of the proposed student union building (outlined in white) on a map of the Kwantlen Surrey campus.

A letter was sent to Kwantlen Student Association (KSA) president Harman “Sean Birdman” Bassi Sept. 23 notifying the KSA of the motion.

Bassi, the KSA’s president and spokesperson refused a request for an interview, when contacted by email Oct. 6.

At the Sept. 30 executive board meeting, KSA director of finance Nina Sandhu attributed the board’s move to budgetary issues. In a later interview, Sandhu said that no one had given the KSA any explanation about the motion and that she assumed it was related to the budget.

“The original plan that KPU gave for what they’d like in the student union building, the architect said it could not be done with the budget that we had,” said Sandhu.

“[The architect] said basically given the amount of square footage that you want, you’re not going to be able to do it in your budget. So you either have to sacrifice the amount of square footage or you have to up your budget. So that’s why we’re going to see what we really need.”

However, a written statement from KPU associate vice president Jody Gordon directly contradicted Sandhu’s original rationale.

“The university is not prepared at this time to pursue the student union building initiative with the KSA given the KSA’s current litigious proceedings,” wrote Gordon in an Oct. 4 email to The Runner.

“While considering the scope and magnitude of a student union building project, the university questions proceeding further until such time as the KSA’s current disputes are resolved.  The university is committed to proactive student engagement through partnerships with the KSA.”

Sandhu rejected the university’s explanation.

“The KSA is obviously autonomous from the university, so the proceedings that we decide to take are proceedings in the best interests of the KSA, the best interests of the students,” Sandhu told The Runner. “I don’t feel the student union building has anything to do with our proceedings that we’ve taken on.”

“The only party in this that’s losing out is the students.”

According to an agreement signed by the KSA and the university, both parties had committed to conducting a SUB feasibility study which was expected to cost between $50,000 and $75,000. The agreement had also pegged the total project budget for the proposed SUB at $10,000,000.

Most Kwantlen students currently pay $0.95 per credit for a SUB fee. In the 2009 “Year One” referendum, nearly 61 per cent of voting Kwantlen students approved a SUB fee of $2.90 per credit. The fee was to be increased in increments, with the full $2.90 per credit not to be charged in full until 2013. According to the referendum question the fund is to be used “to build and operate student-owned SUB buildings on the Surrey and Langley campuses, and to develop autonomous student centres on both Cloverdale and Richmond.”

According to a Runner article from March 2010, the KSA had “proposed that the new building be placed east of the small forest on Surrey campus, which is currently occupied by parking space.”

Then-KSA general manager Desmond Rodenbour expressed a desire that the SUB project would be fast-tracked.

“We would like to see first-year students paying in to the fund this year to see it built before they graduate,” Rodenbour told The Runner at the time. “It would be my hope that this is next building built on campus.”

Before the board of governor’s cut off funding, the SUB stakeholder’s committee had only done preliminary work, according to Gordon. “Most of the meetings had been very focused on the exploratory,” said Gordon in an Oct. 6 phone interview. “Looking across North America to see how student union buildings were built. What did they look like? How big they were? Were they built from scratch? Were they built as a refurbishment?

At one of the last stakeholder’s meeting, the university asked the KSA to prioritize the list of services and kind of spaces they wanted to be part of the SUB.

Gordon also expressed concern that the KSA’s most recent wish list made no provision for clubs space.

In his Sept. 30 report to the executive, KSA director of external affairs Bobby Padda pointed out that Justine Franson’s resignation had left an empty seat on the SUB stakeholders committee and recommended that the vacancy be filled. According to his report, the date of the next SUB meeting is still to be determined.