By Justin Prince
Students at the University of Windsor have voted against a proposal to renovate the school’s athletic complex.
The Lancers Sport and Recreation Centre referendum went to three groups of students Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
However, all student associations needed at least 50 per cent support for the proposal to pass. The graduate students voted 54 per cent against the proposal.
Overall, more than 52 per cent of the students in the referendum supported the new fee according to the unofficial results, which were released Dec. 3. More than 4,500 students took part. University of Windsor Students’ Alliance Chief Returning Officer April Adams said it had the largest turnout of any kind of school vote in several years.
“There was a lot of time and effort and emotional capital tied up in trying to bring this thing to life. It’s disappointing,” said Windsor Lancers athletic director Mike Havey. “The students have voted and we accept the results.”
The proposal, which was first discussed in 2013, includes a new 124,000 square-foot recreation centre, an eight-lane swimming pool, a triple gymnasium for intramural sports and a new grass turf soccer pitch. It would remodel the St. Denis Centre, which has been operating since 1980.
“When I made (the “yes” vote) Facebook page, I didn’t know what to expect and the support has left me speechless,” said Lancers baseball player Kieran Buzek, who started the “yes” vote campaign for the referendum. “One thing we can’t say is that we didn’t try. We gave it our all and left it all out there.”
If approved, the LSRC fee would have charged each student $125 a year starting in 2019, when the renovated facility was expected to open. The fee would have then increased each year by five per cent until 2026. It would then be combined with the current Sports and Recreation capital fees in 2029. The fee would have then been charged to students for another 30 years.
The LSRC fee was expected to pay for about $55 million of the project’s construction costs.
“We don’t believe it’s fair for students to be funding these sorts of projects and we don’t think it’s necessary,” said Drop Fees Now Windsor Communications Navigator Brigham Bartol, whose group led the “no” campaign in the referendum. “The university was able to fund multi-million dollar projects like the (Stephen and Vicki Adams) Welcome Centre, the parking deck and other similar things without student fees.”
Havey said the school’s athletic and recreational services are important to the students at the university. Currently the St. Denis Centre has 8,000 members who use the school’s recreation programs.
“I don’t want people to think the sole focus of this was varsity athletics. One of the misconceptions out there amongst students is that it’s only for human kinetic students and varsity athletes. Both of those have small populations,” said Havey, who added there are about 350 varsity athletes at the school. “The kids who play intramural sports who can’t get a team in the soccer league because there’s not enough capacity or who are tired of finishing intermural volleyball at 1 a.m. because that’s what it takes with the limitations with the courts, they’re disappointed too.”
Havey said the school had worked with its three student associations – the UWSA, the Graduate Student Society and the Organization of Part-Time University Students – on everything from which architecture firm would design the facility to the format of the referendum.
They had also toured facilities such as the nearly-finished Guelph Gryphons Athletic Centre which students had voted to help pay for in a similar referendum in 2010.
Bartol said it’s not uncommon for universities to raise student fees to help pay for capital projects. He said his group, which campaigns against raising student and tuition fees, doesn’t want students to think their fees need to be increased for school proposals.
“We really want to make sure that students should know that this should not set a precedent for the future for other projects,” said Bartol. “We want to resist the idea that students need to pay for things the university is trying to do.”
Havey said it’s too early to decide what to do next. He isn’t sure what the exact path will be, but is hopeful the athletic complex can still be built.
“I am to a certain degree optimistic and hopeful because of the results,” said Havey. “We had the attention of one-third of the campus for this question, and even though it’s not going to be able to go forward with the way that it was constructed, we had 52 per cent of the popular vote. It makes me believe there’s pretty significant student interest and support … The numbers don’t lie … I think there’s a future for this.”
The results will become official once they’re presented to the Board of Directors for the UWSA, GSS and OPUS next week.