SFU students vote on student union building plan

On Tuesday, all Jeff McCann could do was wait.

Sure, McCann, the outgoing president of the Simon Fraser Student Society, was awaiting the results of the student society elections in which he was vying for the position of university relations officer.

But perhaps more importantly, he was on pins and needles waiting to find out whether Simon Fraser University students had approved a society proposal for a $65-million student union building (SUB) at the Burnaby campus.

The SFU student elections took place online Tuesday to Thursday, with the results to be posted online by Friday morning, March 23, after the NewsLeader's deadlines.

"So we're in the dark, we don't know anything," McCann said with a laugh.

The SUB proposal, announced last month, would add about 100,000 square feet of student space and a 2,500-seat outdoor stadium overlooking Terry Fox Field.

The plan has been in the works since 2006 and would provide space for student clubs, teams and groups, as well as social space for students, staff, faculty and the growing Burnaby Mountain community.

In 1989, a similar referendum resulted in what the student society could afford at the time, its current space of one floor of four solidly-booked conference rooms sandwiched between two levels of administrative offices. It serves 25,000 students.

The new proposal would be located in a repurposed Lorne Davies Complex, one of the original 1964 buildings designed by Arthur Erickson, that currently houses a pool, gym and administrative offices.

Partially-covered stadium seating would be built in front of the building overlooking Terry Fox Field next door, making it easier to support SFU athletes and providing a new venue for concerts and other events.

The plan for the Davies complex would also depend on whether the university can move the pool to another location, possibly where the tennis courts are now, south of Terry Fox Field.

Since student space is not funded by government, the entire project hinges on whether students support the plan and its related student levy in the referendum.

If approved, McCann said in an earlier interview, the levy would start at $10 per semester in 2014, rising to $20 per semester the second year and so on, maxing out at $70 to $90 per semester. The student society expects it will take 30 years of the levy to pay for the project.

Students who will benefit most from the new facility would pay more, said McCann Tuesday. Personally, he would pay because "I'm tired of doing five laps of the library to find a chair to sit in."

SFU students don't necessarily know what a SUB could do for the Burnaby campus, he said. But right now, people don't stay on campus because there are few places to hang out or get a bite to eat.

About 500 people have joined a Facebook group set up for the plan, and response has been positive so far, McCann said, but he has no real idea how fellow students will vote, least of all what the voter turnout will be.

Last year, he said, a referendum question regarding the discounted student transit pass, the U-Pass, resulted in a high voter turnout of 20 per cent. "In other years you're lucky if you get five per cent."

If the proposal is approved and all goes as planned, it's expected the new facility could open by 2017.

Until Friday morning, all McCann and other students can do is wait.

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