The student centre: A historical perspective

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By Caroline Alphonso

The dream of a student centre is almost as old as Ryerson itself.

Just after the Second World War, Ryerson had something resembling a student centre. A converted airplane hangar housed a gym, pub, tuck shop, barber shop and lounge. It was torn down when Kerr Hall was built in the ‘50s.

Having a central spot on campus where students could relax and find services has been a dream ever since.

The concept of a student centre first emerged in 1971, but when provincial funds fell through, it was shelved.

The establishment of Oakham House served as a spot for students when it opened in 1978, but it was too small.

Then in 1985, a proposal to build a $4 million student centre in the parking lot behind the journalism building emerged, but other projects became a priority and nothing was done.

Construction was delayed again in 1988 for the same reason.

The campaign for a student centre geared up again in 1991, when the student government spent close to $200,000 on promotion and planning and design, hiring architecture firms to come up with models of an environmentally-friendly student centre. The building was estimated to cost $7 million, but students voted no in a referendum asking whether they were willing to contribute $48.75 starting the next year or $54 starting the year after to a student centre fund.

The proposal was shot down by a two to one margin — 1,056 students voted no, 477 voted yes. OF the 12,400 eligible voters, turnout was high at 12.56 per cent

The student centre was put on the back burner for the next couple of years, until 1994 when the student union decided to hold another referendum, this time asking for $21 per semester.

The student union was optimistic. In a poll of 600 students, 83 per cent felt there was a need for a student centre at Ryerson. The cost of building was estimated at $7.9 million.

But the question never even made it to a referendum. Ryerson’s board of governors was unsatisfied with the financing proposed by student council. The board voted against holding a referendum, citing concerns about the effect of long-term interest rates.

The following year’s student council proposed a referendum for October 1995. It was quashed when Paul Cheevers became RyeSAC president.

Cheevers did not support the student centre for financial reasons. He wanted at least 50 to 60 per cent of the funds necessary for building the centre in the bank before anything else was done.

So the plan was once again halted in the fall of 1995.

It has been resurrected by this year’s RyeSAC executive, but with a new approach.

Students will vote on whether to redirect funding no longer needed to pay off the RAC’s mortgage to the construction of the student centre.

No money has been spent on designing the building.

“We are leaving it up to the students. We won’t start anything until 1999,” said John McGowan, RyeSAC’s VP finance and development.

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