$25.5 M contribution still up for debate

AMS negotiates what students get in exchange for Queen’s Centre fee

More than 750 students voted on the question of a mandatory $71 Queen’s Centre fee.
More than 750 students voted on the question of a mandatory $71 Queen’s Centre fee.
Photo by Emily Maclaurin-King

What AMS officials say is a crucial component of the $25.5 million undergraduate student contribution to the Queen’s Centre remains incomplete, even as the AMS arranges to collect the money.

In March, more than 845 students filled Grant Hall to participate in the historic decision for current and future students to financially back the construction of the new $230 million student life and athletics centre. Students voted overwhelmingly in favour of the establishment of a mandatory $71 fee to collect the cash.

However, the question put to voters that late winter evening hinged upon a formal agreement between the AMS and the University—a memorandum of understanding (MOU) defining what students would get in return for their cash.

At the time of voting, an agreement had not been reached.

And although the first slate of the mandatory fee—set to rise to $141 per year after five years—will be collected this September, the parties have yet to sign a deal.

“Totally bluntly, there should have been an MOU before the fee was passed,” said AMS President Ethan Rabidoux. “I cannot explain why it wasn’t, but now that [the fee] has been passed, we do need an MOU, and we’re going to get one.”

The AMS and University are currently in negotiations.

Former AMS President Tyler Turnbull’s administration submitted their first draft to the University last January. The University returned a version outlining the University’s interests in April, after the fee was passed.

“Although we passed the fee, we haven’t signed the MOU yet because we don’t agree with what the University is telling us,” said AMS Student Centre Officer Andy Singh. “We’re advocating for student interests and if the University doesn’t want that, then we’re not going to just be forced to sign.”

Singh said the $25.5 million contribution, which goes directly to the project’s bottom line, is not a charitable donation.

“We don’t want it to be with no strings attached,” he said. “We want the University to understand that students ... are actual clients in this process.”

Rabidoux agreed the money won’t be given “carte blanche.”

“[The MOU is] to ensure that we don’t hand over $25.5 million and then walk away,” he said. “I think it’s totally reasonable on the part of students to expect more because they have contributed so much.”

Rabidoux and Singh said they would not comment on specific details until an agreement is reached.

However, Rabidoux explained the AMS’s goal is to secure key commitments from the University.

“[Students] have every reason to believe that what we will have then [in the Queen’s Centre] will be at the bare minimum the same quality—but should be better—than what we have now,” he said.

The agreement is divided into two parts, broad philosophical commitments and more specific details, Rabidoux said.

“The more specific parts deal with anything from space allocations, like size, to commitments as far as who runs what, [and] what can students reasonably expect in 10 to 15 years?” he said. “It’s essentially making sure that when the Queen’s Centre is open and rolling, not only will we have a better athletics facility ... but the student life facility will be much better and students will play an increased role in it.”

Rabidoux said the MOU is not a business plan.

“We can’t say we want this [specific] square inch of the Queen’s Centre to be allocated to us so we can put in a coffee shop,” he said. “It’s broad, it sets the direction.”

Singh said a separate agreement regarding the actual operation of the Queen’s Centre would be negotiated later and is not part of the MOU.

“Does the University run the Queen’s Centre? Or does the student government run the Queen’s Centre?” he asked.

The current hub of student life activities, the JDUC, is governed by a 14-member council made up of representatives from the AMS, SGPS and University.

University Vice Principal (Finances) Andrew Simpson was on vacation and couldn’t be reached by press time for comment.

Rabidoux said the student contribution will be put towards the entire project, not just the student life portion.

According to Rabidoux, the fact that students are putting forth such a large sum is a huge selling point for the Office of Advancement to take to alumni.

“[They say] ‘look, this is something that students want so badly that they’re ready to spend this much money on it,’ ” Rabidoux said. “The project would have at least been delayed [extensively] or destroyed had the fee not gone through, had the students not gotten behind it.”

Although fees will be collected by the AMS by September 30, Singh said the University will not be transferred the money until June.

“We will have to sign an MOU by the end of the year, and it will be signed,” he said. “But Queen’s students will not give a penny to the University before the MOU is signed.”

Groundbreaking for the Queen’s Centre is scheduled to begin sometime in 2006. The project, to be built in three phases, includes five connected units that span an area bordered by University Avenue, Division Street, Union Street and Earl Street.

The project is expected to take 10 to 15 years to complete.

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