Editor’s Note: As an independent student society, The Peak Publications Society participated in the process initiated by the Simon Fraser Student Society to express interest in organizational space in the Student Union Building. The Peak Publications Society is no longer pursuing office space in the Student Union Building and does not have an interest in the process. The coverage in this article undertaken by a member of our editorial team is not influenced or informed by the non-editorial activities of The Peak Publications Society.
On-campus student societies including campus radio station CJSF, the Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG), and Embark are speaking out after being allegedly denied space in the up-and-coming Student Union Building.
The trio of independent student societies says that they were recently informed by the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) that their bids for organizational space in the Student Union Building were unsuccessful. The decision has raised concern that some of the societies will have to move off campus next summer.
“This denial has caught us by surprise, and we are very confused, bewildered, and disappointed by this decision,” said Craig Pavelich, the communications director for SFPIRG, in a statement. “We don’t know what to do, so we will be exploring our options.”
The SFSS put out a call earlier this semester for student organizations to state their interest in office space in the new Student Union Building. At the time, SFPIRG and CJSF told The Peak their organizations could be left homeless when their leases run out and they must vacate their offices in the Rotunda in June 2018.
READ: Student groups struggle to find space on campus
In response to the concerns, the SFSS informed The Peak on the afternoon of December 1 that the choice not to provide offices in the Student Union Building to the societies was due to extensive interest from clubs and student unions and limited openings in the new building. The SFSS has instead offered to lease SFPIRG and CJSF space in Forum Chambers and The Undergrounds in Maggie Benston Centre, according to SFSS President Hangue Kim.
“Embark is currently housed in the West Mall Complex and could request that the university continue to lease space to them as they are not at the same risk of losing their spaces as the other external groups,” he added.
The Peak did not receive comment from SFPIRG and CJSF regarding the alternative office spaces by the time of publication.
Embark seeks answers at board meeting
The issue was brought up by Embark during a presentation about their organization at the SFSS Board of Directors meeting on the morning of December 1.
“I think the purpose of our meeting today is to have a dialogue with the SFSS board about the recent decision to not invite the other student societies [into] the Student Union Building,” said Dima Lavrentyev, the chair of the board of directors for Embark.
“We are not here to ask you to change your decision, we are here to gain a better understanding from the board members about how this decision was made and why. It is important for us because we want to gain more clarity, something that we haven’t been able to get in the past.”
Lavrentyev added that Embark was involved with sustainability consultations for the Student Union Building and asked the board what criteria they used to determine who was eligible for space.
Kim replied that the board was not able to answer the questions during the presentation.
“I’m going to just stop it there,” Kim said, adding that the board was under the impression that Embark would just be presenting about their organization. “Until we have a discussion as a board, we can’t answer really any of those questions.”
In the meeting, vice-president university relations Erwin Kwok noted that the decision was pending board discussion and was not yet final.
Societies involved in project from beginning
The three student societies emphasised that they were involved in the process of consultation around the Student Union Building in its early stages and many were shocked to find out that they would not be allocated a suite in the new building.
“The SFSS and BuildSFU have striven to include us in the SUB project, from before the BuildSFU levy was even passed by referendum, and throughout the consultation and development process,” stated Pavelich. “The SFSS and SFU led us to believe that there would be space for student organizations in the SUB.”
The student levies for the $55 million project were approved in a referendum in the spring of 2012 though construction only started in 2016.
“This [decision] surprised and disappointed us as we have participated in various consultation processes for the project since [the] very beginning,” said Magnus Thyvold, CJSF station manager, in a statement. “We are still trying to determine what to do next and what [our] options are.”
The other organizations 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.
SFPIRG and CJSF lease their current office spaces through the SFSS, but their leases are scheduled to run out next summer and the suites will be returned to the university when the Student Union Building opens sometime in fall 2018.
SFSS prioritizes student clubs, unions
The SFSS determined after receiving a large number of submissions that four out of the five available suites in the new building would be for undergraduate clubs and student unions to use, but the allocation of the last suite is still being finalized, according to Kim.
“During the design phase of the SUB, the SFSS suggested that existing campus groups would have a strong case to be made to continue leasing space from the SFSS. Space was never promised to these groups and no agreements were signed to provide space in the SUB,” he said.
“We also recognize that clubs and student unions do not have the financial capacity to lease space elsewhere, whereas external groups collect student fees which could be allocated to leasing space elsewhere,” continued Kim.
The SFSS reported that some of the factors considered when choosing how to assign the office spaces in the Student Union Building was the impact on undergraduate students and the student experience. The fact that the other student societies are not part of the SFSS was a factor in the decisions, according to Kim.
In the board meeting, the SFSS indicated that it had asked the independent societies to keep their discussions confidential until use for all the spaces was determined, something that Lavrentyev said was not communicated to Embark.
Erin Daly, the executive director at Embark, told the board that they were also under the impression that the decision about who received space in the Student Union Building was finalized.
However, Kim, who requested that the conversation be continued privately, insisted that no final decision had been made.
In the afternoon on December 1, Kim told The Peak that the SFSS has informed clubs and student unions that they will be prioritized for office space and are waiting on some responses from the independent student societies before assigning the spaces offered in Maggie Benston Centre.
“We recognize the ongoing need for more space on campus and are doing all we can to use our SUB office space as effectively as possible,” said Kim.
SFPIRG and CJSF stated that they will be continuing their discussions with the SFSS and the university next semester.
Update on December 11, 2017: In a response to The Peak, CJSF station manager Magnus Thyvold confirmed that the radio station was informed that there may be space available in Maggie Benston Centre.
“However, we were also told the SFSS is waiting to hear from SFU about whether those spaces could be suitably renovated with respect to accessibility and the floor space required to do what we do,” Thyvold said in a statement.
“As student-funded, student groups on campus, we were invited to participate in the development and design process for the building from the beginning, and have been under the impression that spaces in the new SUB were being developed with our groups in mind,” Thyvold added.
“Our members are SFU students and therefore it makes sense for us to remain on campus because it’s where we can best serve them. The University has told us they see providing space to student groups as the responsibility of the SFSS and so we find ourselves in this pickle without practical alternatives.”
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