After collecting about $180,000 in opt-outable student fees over the last three years, the Arts and Science Undergraduate Society will be able to open a student lounge at the beginning of April. The Red Room in Kingston Hall ran a $40,539 budget that included the installation of an electric fireplace and $27,011-worth of furniture.
Spending on the Red Room renovation used less than 25 per cent of the excess revenue generated by the $8.57 ASUS Development Fee. The fee was quashed on Wednesday at the ASUS annual general meeting.
“I feel like it’s irresponsible for us to take more money when we don’t know what to do with the money we have,” QTV Executive Producer Dan Szczepanek said during discussion on the motion to abolish the fee. The fee was collected by the AMS from Arts and Science students.
Staff from QTV present in the gallery on Wednesday night brought forward the debate, posting a video about the ASUS opt-outable fee and urging students to attend assembly to discuss the fee’s future.
All Arts and Science students in attendance on Wednesday were permitted a vote—a stipulation of the annual general meeting. Informal discussion on the fee lasted about two hours before debate on the motion even began.
In defence of the fee, incoming ASUS President Rico Garcia circulated a document containing some ideas for expenditures next year. One section planned to construct a large rope course on West Campus to be used during frosh week and rented out to local organizations for team building. The cost for the “Alpine Tower” was around $105,000 plus around $12,000 in staff training, maintenance and insurance for the year.
During the two-hour discussion, arguments revolved mainly around the merits of the tower. Rachel Cobric, the member-at-large who proposed the motion to abolish the ASUS fee, said she worried about the tower’s futility in the winter months.
Garcia said even if the tower idea is rejected he’d like to maintain the fee to ensure funding for upcoming projects, though he’s willing to put ideas for next year at the mercy of a student vote.
“We’re not opposed to the referendum idea,” Garcia told the Journal in an interview.
“There are many different ideas being brought forward. I definitely think that [the fee] is something essential. It’s something that should always be questioned.”
The opt-outable fee was passed three years ago at the ASUS annual general meeting in March of 2008. It was proposed as funds towards new ASUS services, though it did not specify any formal proposals for a service. According to data presented in the Red Room proposal, the opt-outable fee raised $62,233.05 in 2008-09 and $58,149.65 in 2009-10. This year’s revenue from the fee is projected at $62,028.61, raising the total income to $182,411.31. The proposals for furnishing and renovating the space amounted to about $40,000, leaving over $140,000 undistributed.
ASUS vice-president Robyn Laing said renovating the Red Room this year was an attempt at spending some of the funds collected.
“One of the main reasons I wanted to be vice-president was because last year I watched the services commission have this money and not do anything with it,” Laing said, who was the ASUS marketing commissioner last year. “I thought, we have this gorgeous room, we have this money, we should do something with it.”
Bob Silverman donated the Red Room Space to ASUS about five years ago when he was dean of Arts and Science. Ideas for the service in the Red Room have ranged from a creperie or coffee shop to a permanent home for the Farmer’s Market—none of which have been successfully implemented.
Laing said this year’s Red Room team initially tried to add a portable food kiosk in the room, but ASUS wasn’t able to approve the food service through Queen’s Hospitality Services.
“We wanted to get something concrete and tangible in there within our term because we think [everything] everyone else has been going for [has been] too big and that’s why nothing has ever happened,” she said, adding that rennovations were a way of setting a foundation for future uses of the room.
“There was a lot of red tape with food services, so [the renovations] were a way for us to claim the room for ourselves.”
Before plans for renovations started in May 2010, the Red Room was used for ASUS summer camps and Frosh week. It was rented to campus groups and more often was used as an unsanctioned hangout, said Area Maintenance Manager Jim MacAdams from Physical Plant Services.
“It’s one of those party rooms that people get into on weekends,” MacAdams said. “There will be garbage and bottles and stuff lying all over.”
The room is also known for its part in Queen’s Engineering Society’s annual Sci Formal, often hosting a bar. Laing said whether or not the Red Room is a part of Sci Formal next year is up to the incoming ASUS executive.
“We’ve designed the room so that it’s extremely versatile,” she said. “We’ve actually worked out a deal with Physical Plant Services to put all the furniture in Grant Hall so EngSoc can go in if they want to. But it’s up to the new exec ultimately to decide if they want to do that.”
The ASUS Board of Directors approved Laing’s proposal for the lounge in two waves: the first proposing the renovation; the second proposing the cost of furnishing the space. The renovation was approved in Dec. 2010 and plans for furnishing were approved in Jan. 2011. The cost to repair and repaint walls and paneling in the room as well as refurbish the existing fireplace was $13,528. For furniture, including couches, chairs, tables and computers, the budget was over $27,000. Laing provided several options to chose from for arm chairs, couches, computers and tables in the longue. Furniture will include about 10 armchairs, four loveseats, two three-seater couches and two computers.
Laing said because the Red Room was the last project ASUS had planned for the student fee, continuing collection on the $8.57 fee would have been excessive. The motion to abolish collection was passed by secret ballot with 37 votes for, 12 against and one abstention.
“If we don’t have any concrete plans for something else to go in there, then I don’t think [the fee] should be continued,” Laing said. “Once the plan is in place, bring it to referendum, ask the students, ‘is this a plan you like? Are you willing to give this much money to it?’And it still should be opt-outable.”
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