Vice President Finance and Administration discusses what students will be voting on.
The Xaverian Weekly recently sat down with StFX Vice-President of Finance and Administration, Andrew Beckett to discuss the ongoing renovations of the Oland Centre. The university has begun moving forward in preparation for the upcoming student referendum which will decide whether or not students will be contributing to the renovations.
According to Beckett, the Oland Centre has been a priority for potential renovations during infrastructure conversations over the past several years. There has been minimal work done since the 1960s, and Beckett commented that this has lead to the ‘deplorable’ conditions of the public change rooms, with rusted lockers, mold infested floors and cramped spacing. Alongside the questionable conditions, Beckett states that the fitness centre is much too small for today’s standards, and with the Auxiliary Gymnasium being highly utilized by students and recreation teams, an upgrade is long past due.
Beckett explained the renovations would occur in a three-phased procedure.
Phase One began with the renovation of the main gymnasium and it will further be known as ‘Coach K Court’. These preliminary renovations incurred a total cost of $1.3 million.
Phase Two involves new bleachers for the football stadium and new varsity/therapy locker rooms. This was paid for by the federal and provincial government, with a total cost of $1.5 million. Phase Two coincides with the upcoming Special Olympics here in Antigonish this summer. In order to allow an inclusive and safe viewing position for the athletes and spectators, the bleachers will be completed before the summer, while the new locker rooms will be constructed throughout 2019. Temporary public lockers will be put in place for the games so the rusted ones will not have to be used.
The third phase of the construction involves expanding the Auxiliary Gym. It’s layout will be changed to fit two separate playing surfaces on it. Beckett explained that these gyms are “in high demand” and having another one would “benefit all the students”. Furthermore, Beckett added that a general work to clean up the bathrooms and other common areas will also be done in this phase. This is planned to be finished in 2020.
While these changes will all be funded through private donations, the construction of a new Fitness Centre hinges on a student referendum.
The new Fitness Centre is to be made up above the current public change rooms, moving from it’s original spot. This is being done so that the Fitness Centre can be much larger, as it is expected to be three times the current size. The public change rooms will also be moved, and also be of increased size.
The total cost of the project is estimated to be $30 million, with $23.5 million coming from private donors, $1.5 from the government ($1 million from provincial, $500,000 from federal) and $5 million from students. The Fitness Centre is expected to cost $5 million, and the change rooms $6 million.
The $5 million from the students will be subject to a referendum during the U’s election period deciding whether to charge students $125 each, every year, over ten years, for the funding. A $25 capital fee will be eliminated for student payment, garnering a net of $100 overall per year for students to be paying to fund the Fitness Centre.
When asked if Becket heard of any student feedback regarding support or lack therof for the project he stated the only feedback came from the Students’ Union and a survey they conducted; “... some concerns but generally the feedback was quite positive towards recognizing the need for more fitness oppertunities.”
Citing reasons for why the university will not solely fund the project, Beckett commented: “We do not want to be put into debt, and want to make sure our other capital projects are completely funded.” He also stressed the difficulty with finding private donors by stating “It is much harder for private donors to fund Health and Wellness Centres, as they are more inclined to fund academic buildings.”
Should the referendum be unsuccessful, the enormous project would have to be scaled back, as the university would not have an extra $5 million to spend, and cannot ask private donors for any more money.
When asked why this project was prioritized over other student-centric endevours such as remodeling residences Becket replied that it “wasn’t either or.” Privite donors have already lined up who were more apt to lend support to this project over the University’s other infrastructure initiatives. The money from these private donors however can’t stand alone; it must work in conjuction with the potential student contribution or the project would have to be scaled back.
A question that surfaced to the minds of many was how would you expect upper year students to vote yes to something they will not see the results of? Beckett argued that “Students benefit from the main gymnasium right now, whether it be from recreation programs or heading to see basketball games with improved seating. The first phase has been fully paid for and did not require any student money, so students will see the benefit of that, as well as the renovated bleachers that will be constructed by the end of the school year.”
2020 is the tentative timetable for construction to begin on the Fitness Centre, so first year students will see the complete benefits of the project. There will be several upcoming Town Hall meetings, as well as advertising surrounding the referendum so all students can have the proper knowledge in place to make an informed decision on the referendum. No date has been given yet for these town hall meetings but the referendum will occur alongside the Students’ Union election on January 23/24.