JDUC vital to Queen’s

The building’s continued maintenance and revitalization should be a priority for the community

Photo: 
Potential JDUC revitilization plans were presented at an open house on Oct. 20.
Potential JDUC revitilization plans were presented at an open house on Oct. 20.
Credit: 
Journal File Photo

Allison Williams, ArtSci ’14

Four years after its construction was halted, the incomplete Queen’s Centre project continues to have a lasting impact on the John Deutsch University Centre (JDUC) and its ability to enhance student life.

The long-standing resistance on the part of students and the university to recognize the building’s potential has consistently inhibited attempts to improve the space.

This neglect has manifested itself in years of under-spending to improve the JDUC’s basic infrastructure. Because of divergent student opinions, $1.2M in funding — set aside to revitalize the tired space — has remained unspent very near its usage deadline of April 2015.

If we’re to appreciably improve the insufficient student life space available to us at Queen’s, we must fundamentally alter the way we view the JDUC, and consider it a key part of our past, present

and future. The $1.2 million JDUC revitalization fund has been viewed by student leaders as both a waste of money being sunk into a building that should instead be demolished, and as a silver bullet solution to the problems left by the Queen’s Centre project.

This has left the JDUC much worse off than it was before, and has made the path towards revitalization a difficult one.

Despite years of neglect through a lack of funding for repairs or renovations, the building remains in good structural shape, and it would be possible to transform the space for a much lower cost to the university than building a new structure.

The JDUC could once again become a central hub for student life on campus. The Queen’s community should view its revitalization as an important opportunity to introduce a multitude of much-needed gathering spaces to Queen’s.

The JDUC was the first building I entered during my first visit to Queen’s. While I would come to view it as a fundamental component of my student experience in the five years to come, what I saw that day was an empty building in need of a furniture upgrade and a face-lift.

Prior to the earliest conversations about the Queen’s Centre development, the JDUC was an active gathering space for members of the Queen’s community. In the early 2000s, the student population began to grow, which necessitated a review of the complement of space available across campus.

Ambitious plans for a three-phase Queen’s Centre began to materialize. This included plans for expanded student life and athletic spaces, as well as an objective to replace the JDUC.

In the end, the Queen’s Centre project was never finished. Construction was halted in 2010 when funding dried up, and the AMS negotiated with the University to scale back students’ original contribution.

The terms of the AMS’s negotiations included a $1.2 million fund set aside to “revitalize” the ailing JDUC. When viewed in isolation, though, this relatively modest investment can do little to improve the space.

When the decision was made to replace the JDUC with the Queen’s Centre, maintenance in the JDUC came to a virtual halt. The Queen’s community was left with a third of the building it wanted, as well as an aging structure that no one wanted.

Because the $1.2M was set aside specifically for “revitalization”, the terms of the funding don’t allow any portion of it to be employed as a solution to the building’s growing disrepair.

In the absence of a long-term plan, a singular construction project wouldn’t overcome the uncertainty around the building’s use and future.

The AMS has taken steps toward creating a long-term plan for the JDUC, to be contained within a more general plan for student life space at Queen’s. The plan will undergo thorough consultation with students over the course of the coming year.

That said, the broad community consultation required to finalize these plans can’t occur prior to the April 2015 deadline by which the $1.2 million must be allocated.

Recognizing the time constraints associated with the funding, the AMS has selected five options that fall within the pre-determined price range and fulfill the fund’s mandate to revitalize the central building infrastructure.

A survey and open house have been conducted as a means of kick-starting the consultative process around these specific areas of the plan. Moving forward, the AMS will be modifying its survey methods to ensure all results are received through a verified and unique Queen’s student number.

While the ranking of potential projects couldn’t be accommodated through a referendum question, every effort will be made to ensure students’ voices are heard.

This is particularly important if the funding is to be a first step in the process to change the tone of the discussion around the future of the JDUC.

The discourse around the revitalization fund is an opportunity to create an optimistic vision for the JDUC as a renewed hub for student life.

My hope is that the suggested projects will contribute to students’ vision of the building as a space with incredible history and potential, rather than a consolation prize for an incomplete Queen’s Centre.

Our campus has no deficit of involvement, engagement or community. Long-term planning around the JDUC and student life space in general will make it possible to create the permanent physical home for these activities that students have sought for so many years.

Allison Williams is the president and CEO of the AMS.

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