By Dominic Girard
On Feb. 20, 1985, Ryerson students gave the university the official go ahead to break ground and build what is now the Ryerson Athletic Complex.
According to a Ryersonian editorial that ran Sept. 20, 1983, the underground gym “would boost the opinions others hold of Ryerson, and perhaps once and for all, rid us of the college’ label so improperly affixed.”
Ryerson’s board of governors approved the referendum proposal on January 30, 1985. The “Yes” campaign was rearing to go, having spent $3,500 on glossy posters and buttons emblazoned with a beaming “Yes!” logo.
Almost overnight the campus bristled with enthusiasm for the project.The dream of a decent sports facility on campus was almost reality. Ryerson did have an athletics facility to serve its 3,600 students.
Built in 1963, its gyms, saunas, 25-metre pool and exercise facilities adequately served the small campus, but the student body outgrew the space when enrollment ballooned to 10,000 in 1982.
The plan to build a new athletic complex changed several times as the school struggled with financing. Originally slated to be built at the corner of Church and Gould Streets, then Ryerson president Brian Segal killed the athletic centre in February 1982 when financing couldn’t be secured. But students wanted better sports facilities.
The biggest problem facing the new athletic complex would not be the capital cost, but the generation of operating revenue, Segal said at the time. It would be up to the students to decide. The only way the school would build an expanded sports complex was if the students agreed to finance most of the project themselves.
Between 1983 and 1985, costs, concepts and clashes of opinion kept the contentious project going. The issue was money; who would pay, how much it would cost and where the operating would funds come from.Debate over the student referendum raged. Would students pay $105 per year on top of tuition until the capital costs were paid off?
The RAC was projected to cost $8 million.A January 1984 meeting, that included former alderman Jack Layton unsuccessfully proposed a shared complex with co-op housing and underground parking. Finally in October of that year, Segal announced that the “$8 million proposal for a new athletic sports complex is dead.”
Segal said the only way Ryerson would get an athletics centre is if they built something underground, below the quadrangle. The idea caught on. Bob Fullerton, the athletic director, liked the idea, as did Donald Barr, chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on Athletics and Recreation.
However, Barr went on to say that if students approved the project they would be “contributing to a building they would never use,” as the centre would take at least a year to build. Fresh figures were released in the Jan. 17, 1985 edition of The Eyeopener.
The $5.2 million facility would have nine squash courts, a fitness training area, two multi-purpose rooms, a 420-foot running track, locker and shower facilities and a juice bar/lounge.
The school would seek a $1.5 million grant from the government. Students would have to pay the balance of $3.7 million. The Board of Governors approved the referendum.
On Feb. 20, 1985, 2,304 students marked a box on a ballot that asked the following question: Are you in favour of an expansion of Ryerson’s Athletic Facilities for which students would pay:$40 per year beginning Jan. 1, 1987; $50 per year beginning September 1, 1991; $60 per year beginning Sept. 1, 1997, until the $3.7 million mortgage is paid in full?
Seven days prior to the referendum, the school was plastered in shiny, “Yes!” campaign posters. Student Rob Watson organized a rally for the “No!” campaign.Only two people (including himself), and at least five campus journalists came out to the event.
He blamed the low turnout on student apathy even though the referendum would boast the highest voter turnout in Ryerson’s history to date. Of the students who voted, 68 per cent approved the fee increase.
With most of the money ensured, the university secured the additional $1.5 million from the Ontario government. Construction started in August of 1986 and finished Sept. 1 1987. Next week, students are being asked to pay to keep the RAC thriving.
The referendum, scheduled for Oct. 21, will ask students if they will increase their athletic fees from $57 a year to $137.