On Thursday, the UCen Governance Board held a town hall meeting to address student questions and concerns regarding the proposed plans for renovation and expansion. The future of these plans will be subject to student vote on the upcoming spring ballot, appearing as a measure called “Our NewCen.”
The town hall meeting, which was hosted in The Hub, began with introductory speeches by UCen Governance Board Chair Luke McCrary and Associated Students President Hieu Le.
McCrary provided context for the Governance Board’s sense of urgency on the “NewCen” proposal and touched on the fact that the last major UCen renovation was nearly 25 years ago. The building’s pipe system is currently corroded; at least four pipes broke in the past month.
Le echoed this sentiment of urgency and stated that the cost of the proposed “NewCen” project would have been approximately $20 million four years ago and now totals approximately $48 million. He urged students to consider the measure now and warned that the plan’s cost would rise even more if further postponed. According to Le, future students would end up paying more for the same renovation.
Managing Principal of Pfeiffer Architects and Project Architect Jean Gath gave a presentation on her support for the “NewCen” project. Gath cited failing infrastructure, a need for additional space, and a sense of disconnect between the different parts of the UCen as major motivating factors for her proposed design.
“You can’t just provide nice spaces if you can’t provide the infrastructure to support them,” Gath said. “Right now, this is a building that feels like four buildings.”
The “NewCen,” according to Gath’s tentative designs, would include spaces to relocate existing campus resources such as CLAS, the AS Food Bank, and the AS Bike Shop. In addition, the design includes a demonstration kitchen, an innovation laboratory, and a general wellness center for the consolidation of existing health and wellness related resources which are currently scattered across campus.
Gath addressed concerns about particular details of the proposed design and said that if passed, the “NewCen” measure would be subject to more design work and confirmation. “This is to show what could happen,” she said.
Le returned to the stage to further address the financial aspect of the “NewCen,” and he said students would invest $21 per quarter into the project and then $96 per quarter once the building opens. He concluded that UCen fees will likely rise in the future regardless, but the value of these future student investments could increase through the currently proposed improvements.
McCrary, Le, and Gath were then joined onstage by UCen Director Gary Lawrence as well as university administrators representing the the Division of Student Affairs, Office of Capital Development, the Budget Office, and Housing, Dining and Auxiliary Services. The audience was offered the opportunity to express any questions or concerns and engage in a Q&A with the aforementioned panelists.
The primary focus of student concerns was evident during the early moments of this Q&A as three successive questions related to finances.
One audience member presented her calculations of how much the proposed quarterly fee increases would add up to when accumulated over the planned duration of the project. She questioned the panel on why this amount added up to more than the supposed total project price of $48 million. Director of the Budget Office Martin Shumaker addressed this concern and said that when you finance something over thirty years, it will come out to a lot more than the sticker price. This would happen with a home mortgage for example.
Le then responded to a question about potential project donors and said, “In terms of donors, that usually comes in during the design and planning phase which would happen after voting.”
Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn addressed audience concerns regarding the potential relocation of CAPS to the UCen. Klawunn assured that administration would make sure to prioritize student confidentiality and privacy if such a relocation occurred.
“We’re also going to try to improve it in the current building that they’re in, as well as any spaces added here,” she said.
Another audience member expressed his concern about the potential environmental impact of the “NewCen” initiative. McCrary assured that the project would be beneficial overall.
“The core mechanical systems of the building haven’t been updated since the building opened,” he said. “Part of the ‘NewCen’ proposal calls for a complete overhaul to meet current efficiency standards, ultimately reducing the environmental footprint of the university.”
One audience member was concerned about the new proposed location of the AS Bike Shop and the harmful bicycle congestion it could cause. Gath responded regarding the high malleability of the “NewCen” project as it currently exists. Essentially, he said that any design aspect could potentially change in the future, calling it a “pre-beginning” stage.
“The meetings aren’t over; they really haven’t begun,” Gath said. “Once the [initiative] passes, all student groups will have significant input.”