A chance to shape Dalhousie for the better

Referendum on student spaces set for March 6, 7

- February 26, 2007

Student writing on brick
After the Imagine 07 event, the DSU invited students to jot down ideas on brick-shaped pieces of paper. (Pearce photo)

On March 6 and 7, students will have their say: either yes to improved student spaces, or no thanks, weÕre happy with what weÕve got.

On the ballot is a proposal to transform student social and work spaces across three campuses, 12 spaces altogether. Proposed projects range from the renovations of existing student lounges, construction of a new building for student activities adjacent to the SUB, and a new studio/workspace for engineering, architecture and planning students. Under the plan, University Avenue is re-imagined with more trees, wider sidewalks and reduced traffic.

The projects have an estimated price tag of $25 million. Students will be asked to support the projects through a $10 per course levy collected through student fees. But they wonÕt start paying until projects are largely completed, in 2009. In essence, a yes vote allows the university to borrow the money and pay it back over time with the student contributions.

ÒI absolutely regard this as an opportunity,” says Ezra Edelstein, president of Dalhousie Student Union. ÒAnd, the other thing to emphasize is that students are going to have a say through this whole process.” 

The Referendum

Students will vote on proposals for new student spaces in an online referendum March 6 and 7.

The Question

Do you support the addition of new and renovated student spaces on Dalhousie campus to be funded through an ancillary fee of $10 per course, up to a maximum of $100 per student annually? The University will begin to collect this fee in the academic term when the project is completed (estimated September 2009) and will be responsible for all maintenance costs of these facilities. The design of the new and renovated spaces will be overseen by planning committees on which students will have equal representation with the university administration and all students interested in these projects will be actively consulted by the architects and the planning committee for their ideas about the best use of the space available.

_ I support the collection of an ancillary fee for new and renovated spaces at Dalhousie.

_ I oppose the collection of an ancillary fee for new and renovated spaces at Dalhousie.

The first taste of that process came during Imagine 07, a cafŽ-style event held by the DSU on January 31 in the McInnes Room. The 200 students who attended brainstormed the kind of student spaces that work for them, and gave their first impressions of the proposals on the table.

Already thereÕs been movement. Science students, for example, werenÕt crazy about the link building between the concrete-bunker-like environs of the LSC and the historic, ivy-covered A&A building. While they agree theyÕd like study and social space, they felt thereÕs got to be a better location.

ÒThe university is not committed to any single site,” responds Dalhousie President Tom Traves. ÒWe presented the link building merely to give an idea of a building that combined study space and social space. So if it turns out that notion is a good one in general, but the location is second best, than we will obviously pursue a better optionÉ

ÒIn voting yes, students are not voting for a particular building design because in truth we havenÕt designed any buildings. All weÕve said is, conceptually, thereÕs a need. The design of spaces, outside and inside, hasnÕt been done because weÕre looking for approval from stu-dents.”

Another sticking point was the Grad House. Many students expressed their fondness for the Grad HouseÕs grungy charm, a great place to relax with beer and samosas. But the structure is in sad shape, requiring $750,000 in repairs to bring it up to safety code.

Since the meeting, Dr. Traves has identified another house that could replace the Grad House; itÕs in much better shape and itÕs right across the street.

Mr. Edelstein says the Imagine event may be a first step in building trust between students and the university. HeÕs encouraged by the administrationÕs willingness to listen and adjust.

ÒI think students underestimated the power they had at Imagine,” says Edelstein. ÒTake the Grad House. Students said they didnÕt want something new. They wanted character and heritage. So the university found a new house for the Grad House. ThatÕs directly because of the people who came to Imagine and expressed those feelings. Same thing for the link building.

ÒThose are two examples of how powerful students are going to be in this project.”

If a majority of students vote yes in the referendum, student consultation will not only continue, it will expand. Interested students will be encouraged to get involved on planning committees and provide direction to architects. Ñ DN


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