Student Life Centre faces new challenges

Operations and Management agreement put at risk by contingency motion at Board of Trustees

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AMS President Safiah Chowdhury
AMS President Safiah Chowdhury

The AMS was supposed to take control of the Student Life Centre on May 1, but a recent Board of Trustees motion may put the AMS’s future management plans into jeopardy.

The Student Life Centre is comprised of the JDUC, Grey House, MacGillivray-Brown Hall and the Queen’s Centre, minus the Athletics and Recreation Complex.

The AMS has been in negotiations with the University and the SGPS since June on the specifics of the arrangement and approved the Operations and Management Agreement for the space at the Jan. 20, 2011 AMS Assembly.

AMS President Safiah Chowdhury said that the final step before the Agreement could be enacted on May 1 was Board of Trustee approval. At their March 4 and 5 meeting, Principal Daniel Woolf put forth a motion to amend the Agreement.

The amendment discussed a $25.5 million student fee that the AMS had pledged towards the Queen’s Centre in a 2005 memorandum of understanding. Payments stopped in Feb. 2009 when the AMS voted to hold the money in trust.

The amendment stated that if the AMS doesn’t reach an agreement with the University by Dec. 2011 about the rest of their capital contribution they could risk losing control of the Student Life Centre.

Chowdhury said that although the memorandum originally provided for payment over 15 years, the money was based on the University upholding their end of the bargain regarding the services that would be provided for students in the Queen’s Centre, such as increased student club space and space for faculty societies.

Because these services have yet to be provided in full, and phase 2 and 3 of the Queen’s Centre have been indefinitely put on hold, so have the AMS funds.

Nonetheless, each undergraduate student paid a mandatory $141 fee towards the contribution and will continue to do so for the next 10 years. From 2005 until 2010, each student paid a mandatory $71 fee.

Chowdhury said that the Operations and Management Agreement faced much opposition from Trustees at the March 4 and 5 meeting because the University had linked the AMS’s financial contribution to the Queen’s Centre to their eventual management of it.

The decision of what motion to put forward to Board on March 5 was ultimately left up to the Chair of the Board of Trustees Bill Young.

On Saturday morning Young brought forward a motion that would require the AMS to develop an agreement regarding when the money they owed towards the Queen’s Centre would be paid to the University. The motion passed with one opposed.

Unless the AMS reaches an agreement with the University by Dec. 2011, they will lose control of the Student Life Centre. Without this contingency agreement, the AMS would have been required to pay the money owed to the University for the Queen’s Centre before taking control of the Student Life Centre in May.

Chowdhury said the amendment was shocking.

“The first time we had heard about this contingency was on Friday morning. We couldn’t have pre-prepared,” she said. “In our minds we were thinking ‘how do we proceed from here if they are for this idea.’”

After the motion passed, Chowdhury addressed the Trustees.

“We’re grateful for the extended timeline [but] we do have a responsibility to students, there’s no real timeline for the Queen’s Centre,” Chowdhury said to the Trustees.

The memorandum of understanding was signed after broad consultation with students, but Chowdhury said it would have been impossible to forsee the University’s current financial situation and the problems it would cause.

Dean of Student Affairs John Pierce said the contingency agreement was necessary because the AMS’s contribution had been outstanding for a few years, and the Board didn’t want this hanging over the future of the Student Life Centre.

The University provided the AMS with no response after the decision was made to hold the $25.5 million owed in trust in 2009. Pierce said this was likely due to the high turnover rates in the senior administrative levels, however the University is still committed to making the agreement work.

“The profound difficulty we have here is that all of this is based on an agreement made in 2005. A tremendous amount has changed since then … We want to move forward on a commitment that we believe in but can’t figure out how to realize,” Pierce said.

While Pierce said he’s aware of the concerns Chowdhury had about students not receiving the services they paid for as per the 2005 memorandum of understanding, such as space for faculty societies and clubs. Pierce said students have received a lot from the Queen’s Centre, especially in terms of athletics.

Pierce said he the next step involves bringing incoming AMS President Morgan Campbell, currently undergraduate student trustee, into discussions.

Campbell, who sits on the Queen’s Centre Student Working Group, said a lot of work can be done on this agreement over the summer.

“We’ll be ready to go, getting student consultation at the beginning of September,” Campbell said. “If it’s going to involve a restructuring of the fee, it has to go to referendum.”

With files from Rachel Kuper

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