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The Campus Centre is dead, long live the Campus Centre

The long inane life and abrupt death of a student government dream. After years of obsessive bickering, RyeSAC has shelved the Campus Centre – at least until the next century.

By Rob Granatstein

He said it, he did it.

It may sound like a commercial for a music store or Honest Ed’s, but it’s actually what Ryerson Students’ Administrative Council President Paul Cheevers was saying after plans for building a Campus Centre at Ryerson were killed by the RyeSAC Board of Directors in June.

In a nutshell, the decision means that Ryerson will not have a Campus Centre until at least the next century, even though students have been paying for it since 1987.

Ryerson’s on-again — off-again Campus Centre has been a common dream of student governments for over 30 years, and now some are saying that the board’s almost cavalier decision-making process has done students wrong. 

Bob Crane, 1993/94 president of the student union, says the board has been misled by a president with a one-track mind. 

“The board has been duped,” Crane said. “They were given the information that Paul (Cheevers) wanted them to have, and that’s it.”

Cheevers disagreed. “This shouldn’t be a surprise, I haven’t pulled the wool over anyone’s eyes. I’ve just tried to do what I’ve campaigned to do for the past two years.”

During his campaign, Cheevers told The Eyeopener that the ongoing Campus Centre debate was just a case of “RSU hacks looking for nice offices,” and he was totally against it. (RSU is now RyeSAC.) His tune wavered only slightly after he was elected. 

Cheevers feels that Crane is doing too much squawking on the subject.

“This whole thing has been a personal project of Bob Crane, Mike D’Angelo, (last year’s president) and Paul Felstein (last year’s board chair),” Cheevers said. “It’s been very clear since the board retreat (in May) that this was not a priority of the board.”

The Campus Centre would have included an improved home for RyeSAC, a new pub, study areas, counselling services, health centre, computer labs, CKLN and The Eyeopener. One proposal would have had the centre located next to Oakham house, on Gould St.

The student centre was supposed to cost about $8 million. Cheevers figured that because there always seem to be cost over-runs on public projects, the price-tag could skyrocket as high as a whopping $12 million. 

Ryerson students have been paying three dollars a semester towards a student centre since 1987. Funding is also available from the Ryerson Centre, a campus body with the policy to direct the majority of its fund to the construction of a student centre. Altogether, $1.5 million has been saved to fund the project. In addition, Ryerson had pledged to give $125,692 per year for five years to cover new operating costs of the centre.

“The reason the board chose not to support the centre was mainly financial,” Cheevers said. He wasn’t prepared to start building with so little capital. “If you have $5,000 do you buy a condo or rent an apartment?” he said.

Cheevers told the Campus Centre Committee that he thought 50 to 60 per cent of the funds necessary for the building of the Campus Centre should be in the bank before anything else is done. 

The existing fund for the student centre raises about $60,000 a year. At that pace, without factoring in inflation, the student centre would be 50 per cent financed in the year 2058.

In a letter to the Campus Centre committee this past July which includes school administrators, students and alumni, Cheevers wrote: “Rising tuition and student unemployment have made students seriously question financial commitments proposed in recent years. At a time when student services are being cut, the Board questions constructing a new building instead of working to keep the current student services offered.”  

A referendum would have to be held to ask students for more money, about $20 a semester, to pay for the building.

Crane is confident that a referendum would have passed after a 1994 study showed that 60 per cent of students supported a Campus Centre.

Since 1990, some RSU presidents, like Crane, have been working on a full-time basis during their terms in office to bring Ryerson a Campus Centre. In addition, RyeSAC Operations Manager Liz Devine has been working almost full-time on the project since then.

Cheevers said it has just been a waste of their salaries, and he is not going to continue with irresponsible spending trends. 

Cheevers, in a June meeting, asked for direction from the RyeSAC Board of Directors on what to do about the Campus Centre project this year. The board voted unanimously to drop the issue from the agenda. But a motion to vote wasn’t even on the board’s agenda, and only 11 of 20 board members attended the meeting to vote on the directive.

“I wasn’t aware there’d be a vote,” said Devine, who gave a presentation on the Campus Centre to the board. 

Asked for a comment on the decision of the board, she said: “It was not appropriate for me to answer. It’s up to the board to make the decision what their priorities will be.”

Crane said the vote was an uninformed one.

“The question the board should be asking themselves should be ‘Did we have all the facts?’”

Devine said Cheevers asked her to give the board “an objective assessment” of the Campus Centre in 15 minutes. She did, but was only available to answer a few questions because she had to leave to make another commitment.

“The board was given information Paul wanted them to have,” Crane said. “The board had some very good questions, but people who had political motives were answering those questions.”

Crane thinks the board should take a second look at their decision. “Someone at the board level should say ‘Wait, I don’t think I got satisfactory answers to my questions,’” he said. 

Only this year’s RyeSAC executive and Ben Sinclair, a Campus Centre committee member, were on hand to answer the board’s questions.

This is not the Campus Centre’s first roadblock.

In 1991, a heavily publicized referendum failed miserably. Students called the referendum the “Tony Tax” after hated student prez Tony Francescucci. O’Keefe House residents thought the student centre would see their residence reduced to a small pile of bricks to make room for the development. 

Crane tried to have another referendum in 1994, and was a heartbeat away from getting the approval from Ryerson’s Board of Governors. But five minutes before approval was supposed to be granted, board chairman, and Grand Poobah, J.L. Sharpe singlehandedly nixed the deal over concerns about interest rates in the financial projections. 

Ryerson had a student centre in 1949/50. It was a converted airplane hanger and housed a gym, pub, tuck shop, barber shop and lounge area. It was demolished to make way for West Kerr Hall.

Ryerson has been planning to build a new Campus Centre since the 1960s. 

Cheevers is feeling some heat from Rye administration over the decision. Not only would a new student centre on campus look good on brochures for prospective students, but it would also free up some prime space in Jorgenson Hall for the school to take over for admission and fees offices, he said. Crane said putting off the project now would require future efforts to start over from ground zero; again.

Linda Grayson agreed. “You don’t want to stop because then you have to start from scratch again in a year or 18 months. 

“If we let all the work that has already been completed go, it creates a vacuum,” she said.

Still to be determined is the role of the Campus Centre Committee, set up in Oct. 1993, by then Ryerson President Terry Grier, and the governance, revenue, and space planning of the centre.

Another reason the committee was set up was to help in provision of resources and provision of very expensive land for the student centre.

Cheevers is hopeful both Terry Grier and new Ryerson President Claude Lajeunesse will kick-start a renewed Campus Centre project, and get administration funds into the project.

But Cheevers should be realists, especially in the wake of administration cut backs to every budget in the university.

In the meantime, students will continue to pay for a Campus Centre and will never see those dreams come to fruition. 

Unless Honest Ed donates a chunk of cash. 

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