Proposed levy to fund new student centre goes to referendum

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The future of the proposed new student centre is in student hands as one of two referendums in the upcoming Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU) election. Students will decide whether or not they support creating a per credit fee to fund a new building for student-centred activities and services on campus.

The Yes campaign for the referendum is led by BUSU, with no one representing the No campaign. The question reads, “Do you support the creation of a $36.50 per credit levy that would result in the building of the new Student Centre as per the Memorandum of Understanding? The collection of the fee shall commence once the new Student Centre is open.”

According to BUSU President Aidan Hibma, this $36.50 per credit fee (equating $182.50 per year for those with a full-time course load) would be collected over a 12-year period upon the completion of the building to ensure those paying the fee would be those who could utilize the space.

Brock currently has a student centre, the Student Alumni Centre, however Hibma maintains the new student centre would be significantly different from the existing building.

“Our current student centre was built in 1990 and that was when we had an undergraduate population of about 5,500 students. Since then we’ve almost tripled in size,” said Hibma. “The first thing we would do is make sure that we’re not duplicating any of the services that are currently offered in our main building.”

A survey released to the undergraduate population found study space, rentable private study rooms and professional development services as some of the highest-ranked features to survey participants. Other features the building may include is a multi-faith prayer room, a full-sized coffee shop and a large multi-use space, according to Hibma.

While there is a Strategic Expansion Fund available for BUSU to use in building and expansion projects such as this, currently a $5.50 per credit fee, it would not be used for the student centre. According to Hibma, this is partially because using this fund would require an additional referendum to release the funds to pass.

“When you’re building a financing model as complex [as] to see a 45,000 square foot building built, it would be very difficult for us to build that type of model if it’s dependent on us also winning another referendum to access money from a different pool of assets,” said Hibma.

The other reason Hibma cited for not utilizing the Strategic Expansion Fund is to allow for future BUSU executives to invest in expansion initiatives uninhibited by decreased funds.

“If we tapped into that money for the building, what that would be signalling is that [with] other projects that students see value in we would not have any money to help contribute to those projects, which means they could be pushed back drastically before we could see them come to our campus,” said Hibma.

BUSU has also considered utilizing donations from external sources, but ultimately decided not to pursue that option unless the referendum passes, citing fears of donors pulling funding because of uncertainty in building completion stemming from not having access to the per credit fee.

“So for us we’re really going to begin that external consultation process with regards to external fundraising once we’ve passed the referendum so that way we can show them what money the students are 100 per cent committed to and that way we can also give them a better idea of timelines, where the building’s going to be and based on next year’s executive team’s consultation with students on a more in depth level we’ll also be able to provide more guarantees about what is actually going to go into the building,” said Hibma.

If the referendum passes, Hibma expects the next academic year and a half would be utilized for consultation, with the building anticipated to open in September of 2022. Should it not pass, Hibma expects further consultation to discover the reason it did not.

If the margins are slim, Hibma suggests the referendum not passing could be the result of lack of consultation or lack of awareness.

“If the margins are very far, let’s say 70 per cent of the total voting population votes negatively, I would hope the next year’s [executive] team would do consultation to figure out if there is an appetite moving into the 2019-2020 school year to run this referendum again and really begin socializing the idea of a new student centre much sooner into the year,” said Hibma. “That way when they are ready to run the referendum everybody is completely aware that this is coming, that this is something that’s been discussed publicly for the entire year.”

The voting period will run from March 26 — 28. Students can vote via their Brock email. Those seeking further information about this referendum can contact Aidan Hibma at president@brockbusu.ca

 

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