Student services swamped by bureaucratic inertia

Project speed prompts conflict within KSA.
By Kier-Christer Junos [coordinating editor] and Chris Yee [contributor]

Danielle George/The Runner

Leah Godin, the chairperson for the Kwantlen Student Association student services committee, says her group faces a year-long backlog of projects, even after the KSA took on the services of capital projects manager Kim Baxter last July.

Among these projects include the introduction of a cut-down version of the Grassroots Cafe called Grassroots Express, which was proposed in November 2013. Other proposed projects include a number of upgrades on Langley campus, including a renovated student lounge (proposed in January 2014), hot water dispensers (proposed in April 2014) and a fitness centre (proposed in July 2014.)

According to Godin, the job of the capital projects manager was to serve as a “contact point” between KPU’s facilities department and the KSA’s general manager, Jeremy McElroy.
While the student services committee consistently passes a number of proposals at their bi-weekly meetings, the implementation of these proposals relies on the planning work of KSA’s general manager and the cooperation of KPU’s facilities department.

The latter is often absent where the KSA is concerned, says Godin, who related a story about requesting a garbage can for Langley campus.

“I made the request to facilities in June . . . there’s still no garbage can out there,” she says. “Their excuse was that, ‘We don’t have any in stock,’ and that was the end of it.”

According to Godin, such incidents were the impetus for the KSA to retain Baxter as capital projects manager. In order to help expedite the planning process for the KSA’s projects, the capital projects manager had 35 hours a week dedicated to KSA work.

Yet progress continues to be slow, despite good intentions.

“Our hope was [that] hiring the capital projects manager would [bring] these projects into fruition faster than with regular facilities,” Godin says. “But [with] a lot of them, we are still waiting on reports, and they’re still in the planning stages.”

While Godin admits that the workload of the general manager and the capital projects manager is heavy, she still believes that planning could progress faster.

“[The] services [committee] and the councillors have great ideas and initiatives,” says Godin. “It would be nice to see them done in a more timely manner.”

However, KSA vice-president of student services Steven Button fails to see Godin’s perceived delays as inefficiencies. Button says the timeline for some of the bigger projects as accurate.

“They’re not inefficiencies,” says Button. “There could be some unrealistic expectations for how quickly these projects can be completed.” Button adds that the committee has “over a million dollars in projects that are basically on standby,” but that a lack of time and staff resources account for any inferred delays.

That, and the way projects are financed. “The university doesn’t have the cash to front [projects],” says Button, “So we end up giving money to them and they can spend it out of their accounts, and again, since this is an entirely new project with none of the framework for it done in advance, we’re starting from scratch on this. Very few student unions have the kind of relationship that we do with the university.” Button refers to a bidding process that projects incur if they prompt funding beyond a certain (but substantial) dollar value.

KPU Facilities–specifically, capital projects manager Baxter–sends Button updates once a month on project progress. In a graph accessed in Oct. 2014 student services committee documents, over 24 projects were organized. They’re prioritized in varying degrees (High, Medium, Low) and current action. Button says Langley renovations, which includes projects like the proposed student lounge, are currently of highest priority, something which is echoed in the graph. Five actionable projects (marked as “proceed”) sit at position number one, two of which are Langley renovations. The other three are KSA office renovations. The majority of actionable projects are marked as “explore,” meaning facilities is gauging a project’s feasibility. Among those projects are Grassroots Cafe renovations.

Button explains that the proposed Langley Campus student lounge renovation was a project initially poised for small improvements; these would have included the hot water dispensers.

“But then we thought, ‘Wait a minute,’” says Button, “‘What if we go bigger? What if we actually do massive renovations–we’ll go through this wall, we’ll completely reimagine the space.’ And we started on that project, and we had some really great ideas with what to do with it, but unfortunately, just due to the lack of space, which is always an issue on campus, the faculty lounge . . . couldn’t be relocated because there is nowhere else to put it.”

When they found the lounge renovation to be unrealistic, Button says they backtracked and resumed their smaller projects. But because of a preference for bigger changes, Button says the first choice was to see the viability of doing a student lounge rehaul, and though boundaries exist–the unmoving Kwantlen Faculty Association offices location, for example–he says the student services committee could achieve it anyway.

“Could things have been done faster?” asked Button. “If we had smaller ideas, yes.”

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