In March 2019, the University of Alberta Students’ Union may be asking students if they want to pay upwards of $8 per semester to fund the renovation and maintenance of non-academic spaces on campus.
The proposed fee, which was discussed in Students’ Council on December 11, will be used to renew spaces that do not receive government funding. Due to the university’s $1 billion deferred maintenance bill, SU vice-president (operations and finance) Emma Ripka argued in a presentation to council that the U of A does not have the time or capital to spend on non-academic spaces.
“The U of A’s biggest priority is spaces with leaking pipes or boilers breaking down, and not if students want more chairs or tables to study,” she said. “Student spaces will not necessarily be prioritized.”
Students’ Council has not decided upon a dollar figure for the fee, and will still have to develop a referendum question before students vote on it. Ripka said there are four proposed fee structures, which include:
- Version one: $8 per term in Fall 2019, $16 per term in Fall 2020, and $24 per term in Fall 2021
- Version two: $10 per term in Fall 2019, $20 per term in Fall 2020, and $30 per term in Fall 2021
- Version three: $12 per term in Fall 2019, $24 per term in Fall 2020, and $36 per term in Fall 2021
- Version four: $30 per term starting in Fall 2019
The funds generated by the levy will be controlled directly by Students’ Council. The levy, if passed by referendum in March, would be charged in perpetuity. Ripka said this is to ensure there is predictable funding for projects in the future.
“Currently, students have to vote [on a referendum] every time a new project comes up,” Ripka said. “Given voter apathy, this is a good way to have predictability in revenue to maintain spaces.”
Under the proposed levy, in order to submit a project idea, either faculty associations or individual students would have to collect a minimum of 100 undergraduate student signatures for their idea and bring it to Students’ Council. A two-thirds majority of councillors would need to approve the project for funding to be secured.
Originally, the SU was exploring two fee options. One was a “Your SUB” fee which aimed to raise funds to specifically renovate spaces within the Students’ Union Building (SUB), including the Myer Horowitz Theatre. The second proposal, the “Students Spaces” fee, was chosen based off of feedback with from councillors, students, and faculty associations, where funds can go to renovate areas around campus for students.
“In general, almost all [faculty associations] were in support of this proposed fee,” Ripka said. “They said that study spaces are important and tangible improvements need to happen.”
Ripka said the majority of supporters of the fee liked that it provides more flexibility to campus upgrades and could have a greater impact on student life. She added that special consideration would be given to marginalized communities and areas that have not been previously renovated.
The fee proposal is meant to serve as an alternative to the Student Events Initiative (SEI) which failed to pass a majority vote during the 2018 SU elections. The SEI would have introduced a new $16.50 per semester fee to pay for renovations to the Myer Horowitz Theatre and fund grants for student groups.
A team of four students has been assembled by Ripka to help gather data and promote the future referendum campaign. Further, if passed, the fee would also go towards hiring a full-time capital projects employee for the SU who would oversee the entire process from design to construction. They would also be responsible for navigating the bureaucracy of construction with the university administration.