AMS, SGPS to return to drawing board for JDUC revitalization funding

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AMS President Li addresses failure to secure student fee for the JDUC

The northern concrete addition of the JDUC was built in the mid 1970s.

Although AMS President Jennifer Li said she’s disappointed about the unsuccessful JDUC referendum vote, she told The Journal that “the project is not at a standstill.”

In a special referendum held on Feb. 12 to 13, the AMS and SGPS asked students, “Do you agree to the establishment of a mandatory, non-reviewable $89 fee to support the redevelopment of the John Deutsch University Centre, to be collected annually commencing in the 2019-2020 academic year?”

For the AMS, voter turnout was 20.8 per cent, with 1,823 (51.1 per cent) votes opposed and 1,746 (48.9 per cent) votes in favour of the project.

Li told The Journal “the results have shown a disconnect between what we were hearing, what we were seeing and what students actually voted. It was disappointing to know that at this time, at this particular moment, the AMS was unable to secure a student contribution.”

In order to understand the results, Li said the AMS plans to “do more learning and research to understand why students vote the way they did.”   

“I think comparing it to some other referendums that have happened across Ontario for student life centres. Comparing it to, for example, the SGPS fee that ran parallel to ours,” Li continued.

Additionally, Li pointed to the risk of misinformation. “I think there was some element of that,” she said. “There is a possibility that facts get misconstrued or that false information is spread, which leads to people voting one way or another.”

Conceptual designs for the JDUC revitalization. Supplied by Jennifer Li

Based on initial conversations about the results with the University, Li said the project isn’t dead. She told The Journal that the University agrees there’s still a need to address the deficiencies of the JDUC. “It’s just a matter of timing and a matter of when and how the next steps moving forward will play out,” Li said.

The proposed $62.3-million capital project would’ve secured 8,800 square feet of new study space and 3,200 square feet of new club space. It would’ve created four times more space than what currently exists in the JDUC.

At the graduate level, the SGPS voted overwhelmingly in support of the JDUC revitalization project with a $40 student fee. 

With a 33.7 per cent voter turnout, 1,065 graduate students (77.3 per cent) voted ‘yes’ while 312 (22.7 per cent) voted ‘no’.

SGPS President Adam Grotsky told The Journal that it was “bittersweet” to see the results. 

“On the SGPS, there was a clear support for the redevelopment and we campaigned on the redevelopment meaning graduate student space,” Grotsky said. “For me, our end of the referendum speaks to a need that survives this campaign.” 

In a statement released Wednesday following the results, Grotsky said the SGPS won’t collect the fee from students unless there is a path forward that “retains the University’s contributions.”

Grotsky told The Journal that if the JDUC redevelopment doesn’t have a path forward, the SGPS “will be working with the University to establish graduate space on campus.”

“Currently there is no graduate-only space on campus. We suffer from a lack of graduate community, that’s not just anecdotal. It has been proven through studies the university has done that have shown grad students have a lower sense of belonging at Queen’s, and a lower mental health as a result,” Grotsky remarked.

When asked what the next steps for the project might look like, Li said she has considered a few different options, but hasn’t pursued any of them yet. 

“We need to regroup with the University as a partner and not make a decision just as the AMS. I think reading week will allow us to spend time to think about what those options may look like,” Li said. “There is support, just not on these terms. We need to go back to the drawing board and understand what students will vote in favour for.” 

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