Investing in student space

CSU VP clubs and internal affairs Nadine Atallah (left) and VP finance Keny Toto. Photo by Madelayne Hajek

The Concordia Student Union unanimously agreed on a motion to sign a $97,000 contract with MHPM Project Managers Inc. for their services in planning and preparing for a new student centre during a regular council meeting Wednesday.

The contract would also allow MHPM to aid the CSU in negotiating with the university should there be another round of student centre contract negotiations in the future.

Nadine Atallah, VP clubs and internal affairs, said that hiring MHPM was an important step in the long-term plan for the student centre.

“The whole idea behind this is to keep the option open for students to decide if they want to move forward with the university, independently or with another party,” said Atallah. “Should students decide they do want to move forward with the university, then at least we’ll have started the process of putting together an agreement that is a little more representative of the students’ interest.”

Two representatives from MHPM were present at the CSU meeting to explain their proposal and to answer any questions. Council had very few questions upon the conclusion of the presentation, but Atallah told The Concordian that council members received the proposal weeks in advance and many had already had their questions answered by her. Council voted unanimously to accept the motion, but after the representatives left, councillor Ramy Khoriaty raised concerns about what had specifically been voted on.

“Is this a proposal or a contract?” Khoriaty asked. After being informed that council had agreed to a contract, not simply a proposal, Khoriaty asked if the contract had been reviewed by a lawyer. Council then reconsidered and amended the motion to have a lawyer review the contract before its approval.

The student centre, which has been an issue for students and the CSU for nearly a decade, would provide free space for students and clubs near the downtown campus. An account set up for student space has amassed more than nine million dollars to date, according to VP finance, Keny Toto, mostly from fee levies and interest accrued over the years.

Alex Callard, a second-year communications student, said he was cautiously optimistic when he heard of the agreement.

“It really depends on what specifically the consultants are helping out with,” he said, “Because if they’re professionals and can actually do a better job, then I think it’s a reasonable investment.”

Justin Banks, a second-year marketing student, said that he had been hearing about the student centre for as long as he’s been at Concordia, but is still wary about paying a project management firm so much for their services.

“If they’re going to be drawing up the blueprints and planning everything that needs to be done before construction takes place, then I suppose it’s a necessary evil,” he said. “The CSU doesn’t know anything about what the building needs other than what they want for students, so it could be worth it.”

According to Atallah, once the contract has been signed, a financial feasibility study will be conducted followed by the creation of a project implementation plan.

“The first step is consulting with students on what they need from the space, on what space we have and what we might need in 10 years,” Atallah said. “Once you get the results from the space study, then we put together a financial feasibility study, which is basically looking real-time at what’s available to us and what are our options.”


Student centre project reopened

The Concordia Student Union has a bank account with $9.5 million in it, set aside for the creation of a student centre.

This fund has been collecting dust, and interest, for more than a decade as the CSU and the university administration have struggled to come to a consensus as to where to spend the money.

Student space is something the downtown campus is pressed for, and with years of student dollars going towards this fund until 2011, CSU VP clubs Nadine Atallah wants to do something about it.

“This project has been lagging behind,” she told The Concordian in an interview. “In my opinion, our approach has been too reactive instead of proactive.”

Last year, the CSU rejected the Faubourg Ste-Catherine building as an option in a unanimous vote by council. Once it became clear that student opinion was not favourable towards turning the space into a student centre, the deal was killed and not much ground has been covered since.

“It became a contentious issue,” said Atallah. “The only way I see moving forward is by hiring a professional project management firm.”

According to Atallah, the first step will be to choose a company, and then study the existing student space on campus. An important factor will be to “consult student associations and faculty associations.”

“We can’t think about just stakeholders in the present,” she said, “but we have to think about the stakeholders in the future.”

Once a firm is chosen, by council, they will put together a financial feasibility study and eventually a project implementation plan which will include associated costs and risks.

When a plan is brought to the table, Atallah said she would rather take it directly to students than have council decide.

“I would prefer going to referendum and having students choose which way they want to move forward,” she said. “Going to referendum would ensure that the next executive has a clear mandate that they have to follow year in and year out.”

With student opinion factored into the plan, Atallah hopes to approach the university about renegotiating the existing student centre agreement.

“I wouldn’t be doing my due diligence not to leave behind a better plan than the one I came in with,” said Atallah.

She said that most likely, the student centre construction project, whether it’s renovating an old building, renting a space or building from scratch, is going to be a five to 10-year project.

An ad hoc committee was created by the CSU to review proposals for management firms and Atallah confirmed they will be meeting this week to make recommendations for the next regular meeting.


Red Square Block Party showcases alternative student associations

Graphic by Jennifer Kwan

Students gathered at Concordia University’s downtown campus on Thursday for the Quebec Public Interest Research Group’s Red Square Block Party as part of the week long DISorientation.

The party focused little on the student strike movement with the exception of a table for Concordia’s Mob Squad. The Mob Squad was there to inform students on the Parti Québécois’ recent decision to repeal the tuition fee increase, as well as planned future marches and initiatives. Most of the event showcased student associations that Concordia students may not know about.

The purpose of the event was to reclaim public space. The gathering focused on the lack of student space at the university’s downtown campus after the development of a long sought-after student centre from the Concordia Student Union was put on hold last year.

“Throughout the years [conventional orientation events have] become more and more axed on, the single-minded focus on partying and drinking rather than a true introduction into what post-secondary education is,” said Christina Xydous, QPIRG’s administrative co-ordinator. “Groups that you’re seeing here have come together to offer an alternative view and perhaps a broader approach to the school experience for Concordia students.”

Booths lined the stretch of sidewalk on De Maisonneuve Blvd. between Guy St. and Mackay St. offering information about a variety of student groups. Organizations such as Le Frigo Vert, Concordia Community Solidarity Co-op Bookstore, the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy, Concordia Animal Rights Association, and Cinema Politica spent the afternoon handing out pamphlets in an an effort to engage passing students.

“I thought it would be a good opportunity to get to know other community groups at Concordia and to share information and also to talk to a lot of people that walk by and are interested,” said Emma Pietrangelo, a volunteer with the 2110 Centre for Gender Advocacy.

The People’s Potato also took part in the “Red Square Block Party” serving a free lunch.

“I think that these things should happen more often because they definitely do show what’s going on at Concordia and show what Concordia is all about,” said Pietrangelo. “It’s not just big tall buildings. We’re a lot about organizations and people participating.”

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