UVSS brings $2-million SUB renovation proposal to Nov. 29 referendum


A Nov. 29 referendum will give UVic students the opportunity to vote online over whether or not they support a dedicated fee to fund renovations to the Student Union Building (SUB). The proposed fee would be $5 for full-time students and $2.50 for part-time students per semester, collected with other UVSS fees from May 2013 to April 2018.

UVSS Director of Finance and Operations Ariel Tseng says if the referendum were to pass, the collected fees would amount to about $200 000 per year for a total of $1 million in dedicated funding over the five years.

In his time as a student and as a Director at Large in 2011/12, Tseng and others heard from the UVSS membership that the SUB was lacking.

“At rush-hour times there’s often not enough places to eat,” says Tseng. “It’s not that we don’t have enough space in the SUB, it’s just that we’re actually underutilizing the space that we have in the SUB.”

Tseng is chair of the SUB renovations committee that was formed by the UVSS Board of Directors in May 2012. It’s an ad-hoc open committee of the board with open membership. Up to $80 000 from the Dr. Ewing Memorial Fund (for non-capital-generating building upgrades) was allocated by the board on Sept. 10, 2012, for branding and redesign of the SUB. In the same meeting, the board also passed its motion to call the Nov. 29 referendum (which was later amended to start the proposed fee collection in May rather than January 2013). The committee has not spent the majority of the allocated money because it is waiting to see if the referendum passes.

“In our SUB, because it’s like a strip mall or an airport, the traffic flows right through,” says Tseng. The committee wants to create intentional social spaces. One way that might be accomplished is to build a bridge over the moat (where the CFUV windows are) and turn the Upper Lounge into an open, central hub where SUB users will bump into friends and colleagues.

Ben Johnson, UVSS research and communications co-ordinator, says a lot of students realize they’re members of the society and have ownership of the building, “and they want it to reflect a place that they actually want to hang out in.”

Johnson says that compared to other universities’ student buildings, UVic’s SUB is not really as cool and happening. Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) both recently passed referenda for major fee increases to fund new student union buildings. SFU students will pay $10 per semester in 2014, $20 per semester in 2015, $30 per semester in 2016 and so on (up to a $90 cap) for a $65-million construction project inside an old building’s frame. UBC students have been on a similar incremental fee increase structure since 2008 that will go up to $100 per student per semester in its final year to fund a $103-million SUB (this will be UBC’s third SUB). The UVic SUB renovations committee feels that by upgrading the existing building, the UVSS will not only save students money and construction time, but will also be less wasteful and therefore more sustainable.

When the lead of a marketing and communications group based out of Vancouver that the UVSS had been working with moved back East, a staff member put the board in touch with local firm Holy Cow Communication Design Inc. The communications work was not shopped around to different companies to see if a more competitive price for it could be found. The UVSS estimated in September that it would spend $2 520–$3 150 developing brand application concepts through Holy Cow.

“We’re not obligated to put stuff out to bid the way the university is because they’re a public institution,” says Johnson.

In July, Tseng sent out a survey asking students to rank potential renovations in order of importance, to describe what they did or did not like about the design of the SUB and pub, and whether they would consider paying fees for a $1-million SUB and pub renovation project. Quorum for a UVSS AGM, where major policy decisions are made, typically hovers around 90–110 attendees; there were 865 respondents to the SUB renovation proposal survey. Six hundred forty-seven surveys indicated support for a fee increase to fund SUB renovations. That question referred to a $1-million renovation, but the committee now proposes the UVSS fund the other half of a $2-million project using the Dr. Ewing Memorial Fund.

The committee passed the completed surveys directly to Holy Cow and architectural firm Stantec Inc. (assigned by UVic Facilities Management) and has since been working with them to develop a proposed vision for the new SUB and pub so that students can get an idea of what a Yes vote in the referendum might bring. But Tseng says priorities, options and timelines for the renovation are not set in stone. The committee will be looking for further feedback from students after the referendum.

One of the values put forward in materials circulated by the UVSS is accessibility.

“There’s been no proper consultation or discussion with us,” says Mark Guimond, president of the Society for Students with a Disability (SSD). “The issue has been essentially co-opted from us.”

The SSD contracted an accessibility consultant out of Qualicum Beach to audit select areas of the SUB and produce a universal design report several months ago. Tseng accompanied the SSD and its consultant on his tour of the SUB rooms and later requested a report from the same consultant, who put together the report for Tseng without conducting a second evaluation or seeing additional areas of the building. Though at least one diagram in the report is labelled “Discuss with SSD,” the committee has yet to do so.

Tseng says the SUB meets code for accessibility and that he has passed the accessibility audit on to Stantec so that if the referendum passes, they can look at implementing some of the feasible recommendations in the report.

“We’re definitely going to include accessibility improvements into our renovations, and we’ve been very clear with our architecture firm that that’s something that we want,” says Tseng, but he points out the plans are still in the conceptual stage. The SSD says Tseng told them that specifics of accessibility could be dealt with at a later time; as a result, the disability advocacy group feels tokenized.

The SSD is disappointed that improvements in SUB accessibility are only being brought up because the UVSS wants to renovate the whole building. The group finds it misleading that accessibility is used as a selling feature of the renovations because it says important accessibility issues (such as certain accessible washrooms and fire exits being open only during business hours) have not been taken seriously before. The SSD’s position is that these accessibility issues need to be addressed separately, so it is officially endorsing the No side of the referendum until these concerns are dealt with.

“We would all love a SUB renovated as long as there’s proper attention to accessibility issues,” says Guimond.

The current board has a goal for construction to begin when the first round of the proposed dedicated fee would come in, summer 2013, and for it to continue in phases as the fee increments come in rather than continual construction obstructing students’ use of the building. The intent is for the students who are paying to see changes right away, while they are still here, and for the last of the renovations to be completed in three to five years.

“It’s contingent on external factors,” says Johnson, “like when contractors are available to do this or that. A lot of the stuff has to be done over the summer so we don’t disrupt our businesses. So we definitely want to lead with Felicita’s because we know that’s what students want the most. So we want to see that done first, but trying to get as much done elsewhere in the SUB that we can next summer as well, so you notice a big change when you come back next September.”

“At the end of the day,” says Tseng, “I just really want this building to be a building that students can be proud of and say, ‘That’s the Student Union Building. We own that building. We run that building.’ ”


Timeline of proposed Sub reno

Last fee-supported SUB renovation takes place.

March 2011 – March 2012
Tseng, then a Director at Large on the UVSS board, says he hears from students that the SUB needs a facelift.

March 2012
Thirteen members of campaign slate FUSE UVic elected to the UVSS board with accessibility, addressing the UVSS’s debt, improving community and improving sustainability as its platform.

Also March 2012
UVSS starts work with Holy Cow Communication Design Inc. to rebrand businesses in the SUB.

May 2012
UVSS SUB reno committee (also referred to as SUB expansion committee) formed through the board. It is an open committee, meaning any UVSS member can sit on it and attend meetings.

June 2012
UVSS conducts online survey of membership to assess students’ interest in renovating the SUB and pub. (865 respondents, 74.8 per cent in favour of fee-supported renovation).

September 10, 2012
UVSS Board allocates $80 000 from the Dr. Ewing Memorial Fund for Holy Cow and Stantec to rebrand and redesign the SUB, respectively. In the same meeting, the board passes its motion to call the referendum (which is later amended to start the proposed fee collection in May rather than January 2013).

May through November 2012
Holy Cow is retained for consultation. Meeting times, staggered to allow for different people to attend, are posted in the UVSS committees calendar. Stantec brought on through Facilities Management.

November 5, 2012
UVSS board votes in favour of supporting Yes side of the referendum.

Nov. 16–27, 2012
Online polling for the top ten options in the Rename Felicita’s Pub Contest. Popular options include keeping the name Felicita’s, as well as The Burrow, The Thirsty Scholar and The First Draft.

Nov. 29, 2012
The two options in the Rename Felicita’s Pub Contest that have the most votes by 12p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 27, go to a final round of voting at Felicita’s Pub.

Nov. 29, 2012
Referendum on question of whether or not to support establishing the dedicated fee for renovations of SUB and pub takes place.

May 2013
If the referendum passes, proposed fee would begin.

Summer 2013
If the referendum passes, the pub is likely the first phase to be started/completed.

3–5 years in the future
All phases of the proposed renovation slated to be completed.