The University of Windsor intends to find a way to move forward with a $73-million renovation of the St. Denis Centre despite losing a student referendum this week on how the project would be financed.
“The first reaction is disappointment,” said Human Kinetics Dean Michael Khan.
“At the same time, we’re encouraged the majority of students voted in favour of the fees needed to pay for it. That’s really important that students see this as a priority.
“We’re not going to stop until we have something students can proud of. We’re dedicated to this project.”
Approval from all three students’ groups (graduate, undergraduate and part-time) was required to proceed with imposing a new fee on students beginning in 2019 to cover 75 per cent of the capital costs of the renovation.
The overall vote saw 51.2 per (2,373 students) vote yes compared to 2,253 no votes.
However, the Graduate Students’ Society voted no by a 302 to 254 margin killing the financing proposal despite the other two groups approving it.
“Students aren’t against the athletic complex, they are only against how to pay for it,” said Sanam Mehta, vice-president-academic of the Graduate Students’ Society.
“There are a high number of international students in the Graduate Students’ Society, 50 to 60 per cent, and they’re already paying high fees. Imposing more fees was something they didn’t like.”
The plan would’ve seen a new $125 levy billed to students beginning in 2019 when the facility was expected to open. That levy would increase by five per cent annually for the first seven years.
Both the current sports and recreational fees ($185) and the new levy would then be combined after 2029 and continue for another 30 years.
The university committed to picking up 20 per cent of the project’s capital costs and 100 per cent of the operating costs annually.
The money would’ve been used to for a new triple gym, a new eight-lane 25-metre pool, 16,000 square feet of additional space for training, a new outdoor artificial-turfed field the size of a soccer pitch.
There would also be outdoor facilities added for cricket and beach volleyball.
University of Windsor Student Alliance president J. D. Trapeh said the message students have sent to the university is they’re not prepared to foot 75 per cent of the capital costs for the renovation.
“It’s time to move forward,” Trapeh said. “The students remain united on this.
“There’s a need for improvements to the athletic centre. We have to look at other financial options.”
Khan said the next step is to begin a review of the referendum, why it fell short among grad students and what are the options moving forward. He wasn’t sure of the timetable for when another referendum might take place.
“We have to respect the vote of the students,” Khan said. “I’m not sure yet what direction we’re going to take in trying to do this.”
What Khan is sure of is the intention to find a way to build the expanded St. Denis Centre, which would double its size.
“Students voted on the elements they wanted to see in the plan,” Khan said. “This is for the next 40 or 50 years, so no Band Aid Solutions.”
Khan said he’s also in favour of doing the entire expansion at once. To phase in pieces of the plan would only increase its cost.
“Our students deserve the best facility in Canada,” Khan said. “We know the influence these things have in student success.
“There’s no doubt the motivation of some universities (for building these facilities) is its impact on recruitment. It’s not just what’s in the building, it’s the WOW factor.
“People get excited by what they see.”