By Erin Valois
The fate of a new athletic facility is in students’ hands. In March, students will vote on a proposal to raise fees to fund the new sports complex.
The referendum, to be held March 16 to 20, will ask students whether they support a $126 increase in athletics fees to fund a second facility. The current $61 levy would increase to $187. All full-time students will have access to the new gym and the fees will be covered by OSAP.
The referendum is necessary because the university needs approval from students before fees can be increased.
But President Sheldon Levy said the cash won’t come out of students’ pockets until the facility is ready for use.
“We’re not going to ask the students to pay a penny for it until the doors open,” he said. “We will pay for it and recover the money over time. We’ll have to borrow.”
But raising fees won’t cover all the costs of the new facility. The university will also have to secure loans and donations because the government does not give money to athletic facilities.
The university needs a donor who wants the naming rights said Adam Kahan, vice president university advancement.
He said he has a few donors in mind but the school has to have a more definite plan before he can ask them for money. The school can’t draw up the plans until after the referendum.
Ivan Joseph, director of athletics, said Ryerson has one of the lowest ancillary fees in Ontario at $61.
The University of Toronto’s fee is $252 annually, with funds going to the maintenance of Varsity Stadium — a 5,000-seat complex with an eight-lane track. York University has a levy of $244 and their Tate McKenzie Fitness Centre has nine tennis courts and an 11,000 square foot fitness facility.
“We don’t want to gouge students with high fees and we can’t offer what York and U of T have,” Joseph said. “But we’re looking to hear the students’ voices so we know how to meet their needs.”
The last referendum in 2004 proposed a two-year fee increase, with $38 added each year to improve the equipment for the RAC.
But members of the Ryerson Students’ Union ran an aggressive campaign against the proposal and the referendum was rejected by 60 per cent of voters.
RSU president Muhammad Ali Jabbar said the students’ union has no plans to protest March’s referendum.
“Students have to make individual choices and they need to decide for themselves,” he said.
“The students’ union shouldn’t have anything to do with this.”
But Jabbar said students shouldn’t be swayed by the prospect of a free gym membership with the extra fees covered by OSAP.
“I think a new athletic facility is important but I don’t think it’s fair that students have to pay extra,” he said.
The RAC was built in 1985 after students voted to build a new facility. At the time, Ryerson had 10,000 students. Now with a population of more than 25,000 students, the RAC is unable to accommodate all the gym patrons.
Sports and Recreation has been forced to restrict the sizes of intramural teams, practice times for varsity athletes and facilities for recreational play because of space problems.
Joseph said town halls will help determine the needs of the community.
“Students will have input into the construction of the building. We have to see what needs aren’t being served,” he said.
Levy wants to use the Sears parking lot for a new athletic facility but Joseph said students need to approve the fee increase before Ryerson can scout locations for the new building.
“If the students vote no, I’m going to have to go somewhere else to find $30 million for a new facility,” he said. “We might not be able to have a new building if that happens.”
Bryan Kirow, a second-year business management student supports the athletic referendum.
He said the extra fees would be worth it for a free gym membership.
“If we’re getting a brand new athletics facility, you get way more for your money,” he said.