Build SFU stadium cancellation grows into controversy for the SFSS

The blueprint released by Build SFU, previous to cancelling the stadium

What was originally a simple press release has become the biggest issue to date for this year’s Simon Fraser Student Society Board of Directors, and classes have only just begun.

Since the news broke of the Build SFU stadium being cancelled, student athletes have swarmed Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) board meetings, the transparency of the board of directors has been called into question, university officials have accused the SFSS of reporting misinformation, and calls have been made for Build SFU GM Marc Fontaine to be removed from the project.

All of this started with the decision at the August 11 board meeting to terminate the project.

Upon receiving the estimates on how much it was going to cost to build the stadium, the SFSS decided to scrap the project because it was deemed to be unfeasible. According to Arr Farah, VP university relations for the SFSS, the cost was going to come in at around $30 million.

“Our budget was only [$]10 million — that’s all students approved,” Farah told The Peak on August 16. “So it was safe to say we just couldn’t afford this project anymore.”

Ryan Yewchin, a former SFU wrestler and a part of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC), brought forward his concerns on August 24 over the project’s cancellation and how it was being handled by the SFSS. He was told by SFSS executives that he “was quite frankly the only student who had expressed any displeasure.”

The next day, Yewchin and over 70 other student athletes and SAAC members showed up to the SFSS board meeting to protest this. They came with a letter from SAAC president Olivia Aguiar asking why the SFSS wasn’t willing to compromise and negotiate for the stadium before just outright cancelling it. Aguiar also accused the SFSS of “[using student athletes] as a fulcrum to pass the Build projects, to only take the stadium away.”

Yewchin and company are looking for both a solution to the stadium conundrum and answers as to how the situation became so dire so quickly. They have been left feeling unimpressed with the SFSS’s efforts.

“One of the frustrations with the last meeting was that the SFSS was able to say ‘That’s conjecture, that’s not true, you’ve been misinformed,’ even though they wouldn’t go on the record,” Yewchin said. “We don’t know what the SFSS has discussed, we don’t know what they know, we don’t know what they don’t know, so by far the biggest issue with this has been trying to get information from the SFSS to the membership.”

This theme was echoed in a letter from Tim Rahilly addressed to Larissa Chen on August 25. Rahilly, the associate VP students for SFU, told Chen that she and Farah had reported misinformation about the stadium project. He added that his offers of support had not been interpreted as he intended and, perhaps most importantly, that SFU still believes in building the stadium.

 “I can think of three or four decision points during the SUB [Student Union Building] discussion where the project could have failed. What saved that project was a mutual willingness to engage in problem solving,” Rahilly wrote. “Please know that the University remains committed to the Stadium portion of the project. I personally believe there is a way forward achieve [sic] the vision outlined when students voted on this.”

It isn’t just SAAC that is upset with the SFSS, as SFU Athletics are not pleased with how the situation is unfolding. Theresa Hanson, senior director of athletics and recreation at SFU, said in an interview with The Peak that she’s very disappointed with the SFSS’s decision.

“I’m actually really disappointed for our student athletes, for the student clubs, for the student population in general. I’m saddened by the decision that was made by the SFSS,” she said. “SFU students deserve better.”

She said that she was “not in the loop at all” with the project’s progress or lack thereof, and there were no warning signs that the stadium was going to be cancelled. She found out that it had been cancelled via Twitter, further fuelling the claims that the SFSS hasn’t been communicative during this entire process.

“I’m not convinced that the SFSS has been as upfront with all the information to the students, not just the student athletes. [The] decision came at a time in the summer when there were no students around,” she said. “[It is] really important for the SFSS to see that students actually care about this project.

“My understanding is that the university is very committed to wanting the stadium to happen, and to continue to make it happen. As I said earlier, I think our students and our community deserves better.”  

Despite campaign promises from board executives to be open and communicative about what’s happening with Build SFU, the Facebook and Twitter accounts for the project haven’t been used since January. Keeping students updated through these means were part of Farah’s campaign, and in the meeting, he was called out for failing to follow through.    

On top of that, much of the information from board meetings has been discussed during in-camera sessions, meaning there was no way for any outside parties to know what is happening.

The most recent meeting between SAAC and SFSS officials saw students call for the removal of Marc Fontaine, the current general manager of Build SFU who has been involved with the project since its inception.

Fontaine responded to this by saying, “If board wants to replace me, that is their decision. But I don’t feel that they should.” He said that the SFSS and Build SFU are both teams, and that the responsibility for any successes or failures doesn’t fall on one person.

However, Fontaine was criticized for failing to address the concerns of the student athletes, who asked repeatedly why the SFSS felt it was capable of taking on such a project. Fontaine’s response was that the SUB is coming along nicely, but many involved feel angered at the apparent prioritization of the SUB over the stadium.

It is too early to tell what exactly will happen with the stadium, and what the next steps will be moving forward. It could be that the stadium will be revived and altered to fit a smaller budget, or that the current project will be thrown away entirely and work will begin on plans for a completely new stadium.

As for right now, though, the impression from the SFSS is still that the stadium project will remain terminated. Students will have to wait and see if that decision is ultimately the final one.

With files from Nick Bondi.