News  SSMU plans to fill vacancy in Shatner

Following the announcement of the departure of Travel Cuts/Voyages Campus from the Shatner building, SSMU hosted a summit to discuss space allocation in the student union building last Friday.

The “SSMU Summit on Space in the Shatner Building” – the start to a six-week-long consultation effort – featured discussions on the establishment of a student-run cafe and the financial challenge of operating infrastructure owned by McGill.

The summit opened with a presentation on the history of the SSMU building – dubbed the William Shatner University Centre in a 1992 student referendum – and the various changes that have taken place as part of student initiatives throughout the years.

Though its activities are operated by SSMU, the Shatner building is property of the University, with physical maintenance such as heating and cooling controlled by McGill’s Utilities and Energy Management.

Financial reports from 2010-2011 budgeted $187,899 for chilled water for the building’s cooling system and $145,925 for steam used for heating. The Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system has not seen major changes since the building’s construction in 1965, and their costs are not directly paid for by SSMU.

In an interview with The Daily, VP Clubs & Services Allison Cooper addressed the importance of maintaining Shatner as a student space in a university system where funding is becoming increasingly limited.

“This building is different from any other building on campus. Yes, because different executives are [elected] every year, there are many changes to the building that you don’t see in the general university system. [That] is what makes SSMU progressive,” Cooper said.

On the issue of McGill’s limited financial support for student unions, SSMU President Josh Redel commented, “There are other student unions funded by their university administrations. [The University of British Columbia] just signed a symbolic $1 contract lasting 50 years…. The fact that the SSMU [building] is owned by McGill makes it restrictive.”

SSMU also operated under a $1 symbolic contract until lease negotiations which took place in 1999 – after which the rent was raised to $100,000.

Referring to the contentious closure of the popular Architecture Café by the administration, Redel urged the attendees to question the meaning of “student-run.”

“It’s important to ask ourselves, is there still a desire for a student cafe over another interactive space, like a student lounge where people can eat and study at the same time?”

Redel emphasized that student-run operations should incorporate flexibility, with a vision less driven by financial profits.

He also expressed his disapproval over the discontinuation in financially unsuccessful student-operated projects: “It seems that we’re afraid of this culture of failure…You shouldn’t discontinue a student [bake] sale, for example, because they make a mistake of going, let’s say, $5,000 in red. There should be a chance to learn from those mistakes.”

Although the lease negotiations are still ongoing, SSMU looks to finalize the contract agreements by the end of Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Morton Mendelson’s term at McGill.

Other events included a presentation on the History of the Building and Long-Term Visioning Efforts, Food in the Building, Prioritization of Room Categorization, Event Space in the Building, and Sustainability in the Building.

— With files from Dana Wray