Students invited to give input for future JDUC designs

Revitalization project advances after years of work, negotiations with the University ongoing

Preliminary designs for the redevelopment of the JDUC.
Supplied by AMS Communications

After five months of consultations with students and the University about a potential redevelopment of the JDUC, the AMS launched a website on Monday inviting students to provide suggestions for the future building’s design.

The website features a short informational video about the goals of the JDUC redevelopment. With a focus to make the building a more accessible, inclusive and modern space for students, the site also offers a survey where students can give suggestions for the future design of the building.

According to the AMS executive team, launching this website indicates significant progress on a project years in the making. 

Origins of the JDUC

According to a document provided to The Journal by the AMS, the JDUC was purchased by Queen’s in 1927 and built on the land of Kingston’s old Orphan’s home. The building was originally named the Students’ Memorial Union by the University, in honour of students who died during the First World War.

The Student’s Memorial Union was destroyed in a fire in September 1947. Re-built in 1948, this replacement building has been used by students ever since, acting currently as the southern section of the JDUC.

To accommodate a growing student population, the northern side of the building received a concrete addition in the mid-1970s. At this time, the building was also officially named the John Deutsch University Centre after Principal John Deutsch.

The Queen’s Centre project

By 2005, the student population again began to outgrow the JDUC. That year, the University and the AMS agreed to construct a three-phase Queen’s Centre, the first phase of which — the Athletics and Recreation Centre — opened in December 2009.

In 2009, the University announced both Phase 2 and 3 — the projected $24 million replacement of the JDUC — were postponed indefinitely. In an interview with The Journal in 2015 former Provost and Vice President (Academics) Alan Harrison said the University wouldn’t restart the project — at least not in its original form. 

The remaining $1.2 million left over from the unfinished Queen’s Centre project — funds derived from University funding, student fees and alumni donations — were used to update several parts of the JDUC. These improvements included the 2016 addition of a skylight and a walkway in the upper ceilidh. This money was also put towards the newly renovated Wallace Hall, which was completed this past summer.

Long-term concerns

In an interview on Wednesday, current AMS President Jennifer Li recounted the developments made by AMS executive teams over the past three years.

In 2014-15, the AMS executive at the time began to think seriously about the long-term future of the JDUC, as it became increasingly apparent to them that the building was insufficient for a modern student body.

It was at this time that they worked to coordinate the $1.2 million updates to the building done in 2016.

The team launched a feasibility study and their successors continued a conversation about the long-term future of the JDUC in 2015-16. The 2016-17 executive hired an architectural firm to come up with potential building designs. This work was then passed on to the current executive team, who has continued to build upon the work of the past three executives.

Student survey results

“We wanted to make sure that students would be consulted, that the design that’s finalized would have student input on it,” Li told The Journal on Wednesday.

Between Oct. 6 and 9 of this year, the AMS launched a survey regarding the redevelopment of the JDUC. The survey gaged student interest in the redevelopment, asked them to identify weaknesses in the current building and determined how much they would be willing to invest financially in the project.

The AMS executive shared the results of the survey with AMS Assembly on Oct. 19

Vice-President (University Affairs) Palmer Lockridge told Assembly the survey saw 2,000 respondents over four days, which was “unusually high” considering the average response rate is about 800 students over two weeks for AMS surveys.

The team also conducted two focus groups, one comprised of eight female-identifying individuals and another of nine male-identifying individuals.

With only one accessible entrance and one elevator, the results showed that students were primarily concerned with the accessibility of the JDUC. The survey also showed there’s a strong desire for more club and study space. 

“That was the first time we’d actually been able to hear from students that they’re looking for something better from this building,” Lockridge told The Journal on Wednesday. According to him, 94 per cent of respondents indicated their support for the project.

In terms of a financial commitment, 52 per cent of respondents said they expect the University to pay at least 50 per cent of the redevelopment costs. The executive team said they’re making this figure clear during their ongoing negotiations with the University.

With financial negotiations ongoing, the University hasn’t confirmed how much they’ll commit yet. But according to the Li, the University “recognizes that [the project is] a priority.”

As of right now, Li said there’s no concrete deadline set for the University to announce their financial commitment.

Student fee

At an Oct. 13 Board of Trustees meeting, President Li said she plans to bring forward a “mandatory and non-reviewable” student fee for this project at the February referendum.

Until the University presents their financial commitment, Li said the AMS will remain uncertain about how much the student fee will be. Li noted levying the fee is a “standard funding model for other student life centres across Canada,” so it’s “not unusual for [the AMS] to be pursuing this model.”

Throughout all their conversations with the University, Li told The Journal their goal has been and will remain “to secure a fair deal for students.”

“We understand that students who would not benefit from this redevelopment shouldn’t be paying into it,” Li said. Since it’s part of the ongoing negotiations with the University, Li said the timeline of when the student fee will kick in remains uncertain.

Affected services

The construction project will involve the demolition and rebuilding of the entire northern part of the building, which was the concrete section added in the 1970s. Since the southern section is considered historic, it can’t be demolished. Despite this, Li said the interior could still be renovated.

With such a large project, many of the student services that operate within the JDUC will be seriously affected. 

“Something that’s been really important for us is ensuring that services are brought along the entire way throughout this project,” Vice-President (Operations) Chelsea Hollidge told The Journal.

According to Hollidge, she and her colleagues are now in the process of identifying how the services would be affected during construction. The team will be providing the University with recommendations on how to accommodate essential services — like the Peer Support Centre and Walkhome — throughout the construction.

Hollidge said accommodations could potentially involve finding alternate space for services to operate in until the project is complete. According to Lockridge, they’ve already begun consulting with Campus Planning on this matter.

Currently, the team is unsure of the exact length of the project.

“There is an understanding that construction disrupts activities on this campus and so the University would work to complete the construction as quickly as possible,” Li said.

The vision for the revitalized JDUC

According to the project website, the JDUC revitalization “will bring an increase to study space, clubs and faculty society space, much needed facility upgrades to student services, and will finally establish barrier-free access throughout the building, making it accessible to all.”

Even though the website currently features rough designs for the new JDUC,  Li says they “are not final.” Rather, they serve as a “starting point so students can have something to react to and inform their conceptions of what the building could look like.”

With an emphasis on keeping students active in this process, the site invites any student to contribute suggestions to the designs. Li also said she, Lockridge and Hollidge are “opening [their] doors” if any student groups, clubs or individuals wish to come forward with ideas.

These suggestions and comments will be fed into the final project design and a project committee with student representation will jointly manage the construction with the University. 

“The student life that we have at Queen’s is so unique, and it’s what sets us apart from other schools in Canada, but the physical space doesn’t reflect that,” Li said. “I hope that [with this redevelopment], students are able to see a building that they want to call their own and be proud to call their own.”

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