Lack of outdoor public space on campus is a problem

Amid omnipresent construction at Burnaby Mountain campus, volunteers were recognized in parking lot

Photo by Marcus Blackstock / The Peak

By: Nicole Magas, Opinions Editor

On April 2, SFU hosted its annual volunteer recognition event in a somewhat lacklustre venue: the Strand Hall parking lot. This is a far cry from its previous iteration; the 2018 Volunteer Gala I attended was held with much glitz and glamour at the Vancouver Convention Centre.

Ordinarily, hosting an event like the TRIBUTE Volunteer Appreciation Festival on campus wouldn’t be much of an issue. Our home on Burnaby Mountain is undeniably one of the more picturesque locations of higher learning in B.C. Likewise, there is normally more than enough space to hold larger, street festival-type events on campus (Welcome Week in Convocation Mall, for example).

However, the location of this year’s appreciation event in a parking lot felt flat both because it paled in comparison to its predecessor, and because it reminds students of just how much open public space we’ve lost on campus due to construction.

Before the AQ renovations started last year, the grass field beside the Strand Hall parking lot was paved over to build what looks like a command post for construction crews. This previously unbroken stretch of grass used to be a perfect outdoor leisure area, especially in the summer months when the ground is drier.

Similarly, the reflection pond, a landmark of SFU Burnaby Mountain built for quiet contemplation, is now contaminated with encroaching construction noise and white tarp. The grass is torn and muddied by the tracks of students trying to navigate out of the AQ.

As for Convocation Mall, the less said about this ever-shifting labyrinth, the better. Now, with construction started on the new stadium project, even the sports field is no reprieve from the ubiquitous clatter, dust, and exhaust plaguing our once beautiful mountain environment.

It’s no better indoors. The AQ’s drilling noises echo loud enough to drown out lectures. Scaffolding and string lighting on the third floor makes the corridor look more like a bunker than a university. Meanwhile, the south AQ skylight renovation project seems as though it will overshoot its completion date of spring 2019, stretching out the associated era of tarps, scaffolding, and boarded-up windows.

Undoubtedly, our aging campus sorely needs these renovations. However, with the start of the summer semester and the return of the sun and warm weather, students will soon be looking for areas outdoors to relax and study between classes. Unfortunately, these outdoor mountain oases are in short supply.

As the volunteer appreciation event highlighted, we have increasingly few options for outdoor spaces in which to enjoy ourselves. Will students be faced with only parking lots and white construction tarps for their few moments of outdoor rejuvenation?

Unless some of the current construction projects wrap up soon, this may well be the case.