Building a consensus over centre

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By Sean Fitz-Gerald

A high-powered group of Ryerson administration and student representatives have assembled regularly since school began in Jorgenson Hall’s 14th floor boardroom.

They gather around a cherry-stained wood table to discuss the fate of Ryerson’s student campus centre, an initiative that has been tossed in the air for years and is now in the planning stages.

The centre, a gathering place for the Ryerson community, will be built next to Oakham House sometime in the next four years.

But the question of who will manage the building is being ironed out by its stakeholders — Ryerson’s student council and the school’s administration.

“It would be ideal if it was student-managed,” says David Steele, RyeSAC’s president.

He co-chairs the student campus centre committee with Linda Grayson, Ryerson’s v.p. administration and student affairs.

In addition to bi-weekly meeting of the main committee, 13 voting and other non-voting members representing RyeSAC, CESAR, Ryerson administration and students meet in smaller groups to discuss the centre’s governance, what will be housed in it and make recommendations to the main committee.

One possible governance model would have the new student campus center and Oakham House managed under one authority.

Steele says he would like to see the new centre governed the same way RyeSAC manages Oakham House.

“I think the model of the Oakham management committee has worked very well,” Steele says, adding that everybody’s voice is represented even thought students hold a majority on the board.

Built in 1848, Oakham House was given to Ryerson by the province in 1958 for use as a non-academic establishment.  In 1976, the university and Ryerson Centre, an organization charge with developing non-academic buildings around Ryerson, created a third body, the Palin Foundation, to manage the building.

Oakham House was drowning in red ink in 1996 when RyeSAC took over its management.  RyeSAC paid its $90,000 debt and another $60,000 in operating costs.

Though RyeSAC doesn’t own the building, they run it.  RyeSAC has spent a lot of money on renovations and has opened the Ram in the Rye pub, turning the house into a profitable venture since taking control.

Sitting on the Oakham House management committee are five RyeSAC members and one representative each from Ryerson, Ryerson Centre and CESAR.  This committee meets once every three weeks to make management decisions, and reports once or twice a year to the Palin Foundation.

“I can’t think of an instance where we’ve actually had to sit down and vote,” Steele says.  “It’s always been, ‘Well, OK, let’s sit down and work through this.’”

Liz Devine, Ryerson Centre president, says RyeSAC has done a great job managing Oakham House.  “People are certainly recognizing that and want to ensure we’re all talking on the same page when we’re talking about how a new facility should be governed.”

Steele is confident the school won’t try to assume control of the student campus centre.

“The last thing they want to do is fuck over their students.  The last thing they need are students going, ‘This is a fuckin’ dump and administration sucks.’”

Tensions between RyeSAC and Ryerson’s administration arose last April after the student council held a successful referendum asking students to transfer $60 of their fees a year from paying the RAC’s mortgage to a student centre fund.  Based on an enrolment of 12,800, this gives RyeSAC $768,000 annually starting fall 1999.

An article in an April edition of Ryerson’s bi-weekly publication, Forum, made no mention of RyeSAC’s role in planning the referendum, and intimated Ryerson would control the new building.

V.p. administration Linda Grayson says it’s too early to decide who will govern the building, which will be located at 55 Gould St., the former journalism building that now houses Ryerson’s Access Centre.

I’m prepared to wait and see the recommendations from the [governance sub-] committee Grayson said.  “I’m keeping an open mind and I’m looking forward to some very creative recommendations.”

The governance sub-committee wants students to have the majority vote on the student campus centre’s board, says Devine.  “We want to make sure it’s accountable back to those people who have contributed to it.”

Devine says since the new building will probably be merged with Oakham House, both will be governed by the same board, and that could mean the end of the Palin Foundation.  “It’s quite possible that there will be discussions at all those different groups [Ryerson, Ryerson Centre and the Palin Foundation] to say, ‘If we’re looking at one global structure … dot he three of us need to exist?’”

Besides the governance question, the centre’s financial and structural design are being debated.  Offices for RyeSAC, The Eyeopener and CKLN will likely move into the building, which will also have space for student services, student groups, course unions and computer labs.

A 40,000-square-foot building would have a price tag of $8.5 to $9.5 million to build, Manuel Ravinsky, Ryerson’s facilities and capital planner, told the student campus centre committee last Wednesday.

“To be honest, I think the project may be a little bigger than that,” Steele says, suggesting a total cost of up to $14 million.

In addition to each full-time student’s contribution of $60 a year, RyeSAC has $466,000 set aside in capital acquisition fund meant for major projects that could help pay for the centre.

Other sources of funding include CESAR, which is holding a referendum of its own this week asking students to divert money from the RAC to the centre fund.  If students vote in favour, they will contribute a $2.50 per course levy, adding up to $87,500 a year.  CESAR already has more than $60,000 to contribute to the centre after collecting 50 cents a course form students for the past three years.

Ryerson Centre is contributing more than $700,000 saved up from student levies.  And the centre may receive $1 million from the city of Toronto.

“I said I would go to bat for Ryerson to get a grant of $1 million from the city,” says city councilor Kyle Rae.

The University of Toronto received similar grants when it revamped its campus — $2 million for improvements made to the campus’ main road, St. George street, and $1 million for refurbishing the business management building.

“U of T has had a easy ride and I think Ryerson should have the same opportunity,” says Rae.

Steele says the school will be able to make a down payment of one-quarter the cost of the building, and can use the money transferred from the RAC fund to pay off the rest.

He says the new building can pay for itself during the summer months.  “There’s a huge potential development for running conference services full-time in the summer, as well as wedding services.”

The centre committee will decide by the end of November what will go into the building, Steele says.  By the beginning of December, he hopes to have a final estimate on the total cost of the building and hopes to go to city council with a proposal by February.

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