Two student groups are voicing concerns that they will be left homeless when they vacate their offices next year due to space constraints on the Burnaby campus.
The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG), a student-run centre for social and environmental justice, and the campus radio station CJSF are currently renting space in the Transportation Centre above the lower bus loop — also known as the Rotunda. However, the groups said they must vacate the space when their leases run out in June 2018 and have not been able to find another location on campus.
The organizations, funded by student fees, told The Peak that they have approached the university and the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) about their situation.
SFPIRG and CJSF are renting the space from the SFSS, the society heading the construction of a new Student Union Building (SUB) which is scheduled to open in fall of next year. The student society intends to return the Rotunda, including the suites currently occupied by SFPIRG and CJSF, to the university upon the completion of the new building.
This month, the student society put out a call for student organizations to state their interest in space in the new Student Union Building, but the move has not lessened the anxiety felt by the Rotunda groups.
“We’re incredibly concerned about the lack of space for student organizations on campus,” said SFPIRG director of communications Craig Pavelich. “The fact that it has taken until the year right before the SUB is slated to open [creates the concern] that it will leave [student groups] on campus out in the cold.”
CJSF station manager Magnus Thyvold said that he felt the process is “pretty last minute in terms of the issues involved.”
SFSS responds to concerns
The SFSS chief executive officer Martin Wyant told The Peak that the student society was hoping to have the submission period completed earlier, but it was delayed.
“I understand the circumstances that [SFPIRG and CJSF] have, we have met with representatives of both groups, trying to inform them along the way,” said Wyant. “This has been up in the air and we are aware of that. We’ve encouraged people along the way . . . that if they are concerned . . . they should take the opportunity to investigate other options.”
He said that the SFSS could not comment on the likelihood of SFPIRG and CJSF being able to secure space in the new building. “This is something that we will evaluate once we get the submissions,” he said.
“We haven’t finalized anything with respect to the number of external spaces that we will be accommodating,” Wyant added. “We’ve got this building coming, and we are doing our best to try and identify groups that we think are the best fit.”
SFPIRG and CJSF are independent from the Simon Fraser Student Society while the other organizations currently housed in the Rotunda, including the Women’s Centre and Out on Campus, are under the umbrella of SFSS services and will be guaranteed space in the Student Union Building, according to Wyant.
“It is a student building so what we really want to focus on is making sure that the people that are in it are focused on student needs,” Wyant explained.
The SFSS was not willing to release information about the end dates of its lease agreements with SFPIRG and CJSF or the university.
University cites space restrictions
Thyvold and Pavelich said that they had approached SFU about the situation, but the university did not express interest in housing the student groups.
The Peak contacted the Office of the Vice-Provost, Students and International for an interview and was directed to university communications. SFU spokesperson Kurt Heinrich stated that SFPIRG and CJSF were primarily connected with the student society.
“We can only suggest they work with the SFSS with whom they have their current rental [r]elationship,” said Heinrich. “The university does not have any space available.”
He said that the options available to the groups are the Student Union Building and UniverCity, the community located adjacent to the campus at the top of Burnaby Mountain.
Pavelich said that SFPIRG has looked into the option of moving to UniverCity, but described the rental spaces there as being incredibly expensive, noting that it may amount to four times the group’s current operating costs.
“I don’t think for any of the student-funded non-profits on campus, space at [UniverCity] is a feasible option,” he said.
Pavelich said that SFPIRG had asked SFU if the groups could temporarily remain in the Rotunda once the space was returned to the university, but was told that was not a possibility.
Heinrich confirmed to The Peak that “[t]he university will fully utilize the Rotunda space once the Student Union Building is completed as there is a high demand and need for space at the Burnaby campus.”
“The [u]niversity has been very clear that once the lease with the SFSS for the Rotunda space is terminated, the university will be using the vacated space for its own priorities,” he added.
Groups face uncertain futures
SFPIRG and CJSF are still facing a lot of uncertainty about where they will be next year and want to remain accessible for the bulk of the student population
“It’s really important for us to be on this campus,” said Thyvold, adding that the radio station will likely need to commit to extensive renovations of their new location to make it suitable for working with sound. If the group was to be relocated to the Student Union Building, Thyvold added that renovations would likely still be necessary.
Both groups said they have been renting space from the SFSS in the Rotunda going back at least two decades. They are hopeful that the Student Union Building will bring all of the student groups together in one place.
“We’re excited about that possibility, but it would be a lot nicer to know that that was actually going to happen and not wondering if we are going to end up homeless,” Thyvold mentioned.
Wyant, the student society chief executive officer, stated: “I understand that people have concerns. We are going to have a good process and hopefully people will participate fully in that and we are looking forward to getting good submissions from a variety of groups.”
The optimistic sentiment was reflected in the comments by the representatives from SFPIRG and CJSF.
“We’re really hoping things turn out,” added Thyvold. “That we do get a space in the new building, I think that would be a great win-win for everybody.”
With files from Henry Tran.