Students to vote on fee for JDUC revitalization in special referendum

AMS and SGPS break down costs and timeline for the project

Preliminary designs for the new JDUC building.
Credit: 
Supplied by Jennifer Li

On Feb. 12 and 13, students will have the opportunity to vote in a special referendum either for or against a student fee that would fund the JDUC revitalization project.

The proposed $62.3 million capital project would secure 8,800 square feet of new study space is 3,200 square feet of new club space, which is four times more than what currently exists in the JDUC.

The Journal sat down with AMS President Jennifer Li, Society of Graduate and Professional Students (SGPS) President Adam Grotsky and AMS General Manager Lyn Parry to discuss the technical details of the project.

Costs, fees and funding

According to Li, the University, alumni and students would pay for the project. Specifically, students will be asked to pay an $89 per year fee to finance the JDUC. After months of negotiations, the University has agreed to cover all interest costs for the project, meaning the proposed student fee is “as low as possible” Li said.

The decision to charge $89 was reached after years of feasibility studies, focus groups and student surveys conducted by the AMS to reach an affordable price that would support the $62.3 million project. A small portion of this fee will be taken from an existing mandatory accessibility fee already being paid by students. 

Enrollment targets had to be factored into the pricing as well, as students will pay the fee for approximately 20 years after construction begins.

According to Li, this fee lands somewhere “in the middle” of the fees leveraged by other universities for student life centres in Canada. Since the University would loan the money upfront, students wouldn’t be required to pay the fee until construction on the project begins, which will be fall 2019 at the earliest.

Rather than have this $89 set as a fixed fee, students will be required to meet a total contribution amount of $38,188,306. This means if enrollment numbers increase more than anticipated and student fees bring in more money than originally projected, the fee can be adjusted accordingly.

For graduate students, the total contribution amount will be $4,062,370, amounting to a $40 per year student fee.

Grotsky said he hopes graduate and professional students will engage in the voting process, as the new building will benefit them.

“If the fee passes we are looking to put a graduate student wing in the JDUC,” Grotsky said. “Most schools have graduate-only space or full buildings and we don’t have either here, and I think that’s why graduate students through studies have shown to have a lower sense of belonging at Queen’s.”

If the student fee is passed in referendum, the project will have secured two out of three necessary funding agreements. The last aspect of funding — alumni donations — is expected to need an additional four to six months to complete.

Rough project timeline

Though the Board of Trustees can approve the project in principle this March, all funding needs to be secured before the University can bring in an architect to produce designs. According to Li, all funding will likely be obtained by the end of this calendar year. 

In the meantime, the AMS will be hiring a functional programmer to assess the space and consult with students on what can feasibly be incorporated into the new building. This way, the design phase won’t be delayed while alumni donations are being acquired.

“With a new building, there’s a lot more opportunity to be flexible and to be innovative with how we actually use space, as opposed to right now where everything is kind of [set] in stone,” Li said. “We’re trying to be creative and recognize that needs will be changing over the next 20 years.”

The design phase of the project will rely heavily on consultation with students to formulate designs and will require approval from the project’s steering committee to finalize. The steering committee will have student representation.

As such, Grotsky called the JDUC’s future design “a blank slate that students will fill in.”

“Once the fee’s passed, we’ll engage in an even deeper consultation process with a functional programmer and architect,” Grotsky added.

Based on timelines for similar building projects, the revitalization is expected to take about two years.

Addressing student concerns

Grotsky, Li and Parry all confirmed that despite concerns they’ve heard from students, there are no plans to get rid of the traditional limestone façade of the current JDUC. This southern side of the building has heritage status and can’t be torn down due to municipal bylaws. The northern concrete addition of the building — built in the 1970s — is what will get a full revitalization.

Li told The Journal she’s also received a lot of questions from students asking why the project is necessary now, or why students should pay into the project if they’ll never get to benefit from it.

“[This] is an opportunity to recognize a need [for change] and tangibly leave a mark on Queen’s,” Li said. “We have a responsibility to pay it forward. I want to come back for my fifth-year reunion and say, ‘there’s a new student life centre that’s actually fostering and protecting that student life that I know and love.’”

Grotsky echoed this sentiment, pointing to the Queen’s Centre project as a past example of students paying it forward.

“Students paid a lot of money for the ARC for a very long time knowing they would never have the chance to use it, and that it would have a huge impact on the wellbeing and success of us,” Grotsky said. “So now I feel I have an obligation to provide that opportunity for future students.

The AMS and SGPS have also heard concerns about what will happen to the student-run services currently operating in the JDUC when the building is vacated for construction.

According to Parry, the AMS plans to determine what students deem to be essential services through surveys and prioritize accordingly. This will involve reallocating and re-engineering current space on campus to move critical services elsewhere during construction. 

Li also said she recognizes these services provide “meaningful opportunities to students” and the AMS will work to “preserve as many employment opportunities as possible.”

According to Parry it “rarely happens” that the AMS, the SGPS and the University are all aligned in their position on a project.

“The exciting thing about this project is that it’s always been driven by students,” Li said. “We’re hoping that students will engage because it’s a very important question … to make a decision about.”

A special referendum vote to approve the proposed JDUC fee will occur on Feb. 12 and 13, accessible through students’ Queen’s email accounts.

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