The bigger, the better?

    Although A.S. elections ended last month, students have the opportunity to cast yet another vote this week that is crucial to deciding the fate of student recreational areas on campus. During the entire week of May 12, students can vote to accept or reject the proposed Price Center and Student Center Expansion Referendum.

    Jessica Horton
    Guardian

    The referendum calls for an additional fee of $39 dollars per quarter for university tuition to cover the cost of renovation and expansion in both these popular, yet crowded student centers on campus. However, if the proposal gets a majority of the needed 20 percent of the student population to be considered a valid vote (which is about 4,400 students of the total student population of about 22,000), the fee would not actually be charged to students until 2007, when the expansion is projected to be complete.

    The student population at UCSD is growing by about 1,000 students per year, meaning there will be approximately 30,000 students in 2010. The current University Centers facilities were not designed to accommodate the needs of 30,000 students. The proposed expansion will include refurbishing current facilities as well as the construction of additional space for businesses and student organizations.

    In the Price Center, there would be a 24-hour study lounge with a computer lab, group study rooms and resources for commuter students such as lockers and a kitchen. In response to student requests, the restaurant space available would be given to some late-night restaurants, including one connected to the 24-hour study lounge.

    There would also be more variety in food offerings. Though unable to ensure any specific restaurants, the referendum language promises healthy, low-cost options will be available in the Price Center. There would be a mixture of student-run co-op organizations and commercial restaurants. Additional indoor and outdoor dining-area seating would be added to circumvent the overcrowding during peak meal times. The plans for the expanded Price Center also include a grocery store, retail spaces to accommodate businesses such as a hair stylist, full-service bank and an expanded full-service post office.

    In addition to expansion, the Student Center, which was built in the early 1970s — not long after UCSD opened — would undergo an exterior renovation as well. A priority for such renovation includes improved lighting for more safety in the area. The Grove Caffe would be expanded to include more interior dining seating, and there are plans to move the General Store to a larger location just north of Porter’s Pub. Soft Reserves and Lecture Notes would also become larger to accommodate the growing demands of a growing student population.

    At both University Centers there would be additional space allotted for new student organization offices, as well as renovations of currently existing spaces. There would also be more space designed specifically for holding student events and programming than is currently available.

    Much of the construction would start around 2005, after it is designed and approved by a Building Advisory Committee. Although there will be representatives from several administrative departments, two-thirds of the committee would be made up of students. However, some of the office renovations could begin as early as this summer.

    The University Center Advisory Board claims the construction will cause minimal impact on student life. The existing services will remain open and work on student organization spaces would be done during the summer, while they are inactive.

    The process of the actual construction may seem small in comparison to the complex course of action that has been taken to even prepare a proposal for the student body to be able to vote on. The planning for the referendum that students will pass or reject this week began almost two years ago.

    According to UCAB Chair James Lynch, the expansion process was initiated in December of 2001, by then-A.S. President Jeff Dodge and then -A.S. Vice President Internal Jenn Brown. The two are reported to have collaborated in composing a charter document that outlined the procedure.

    Once the charter was completed, the next step was to create a task force, comprised of various student and faculty representation from each of the colleges, UCAB (of which 50 percent must be students), the co-ops and the Cross Cultural Center, among other student organizations. The task force was intended to oversee the development of this involved procedure.

    Every student senator was considered an ex-officio member of the taskforce. However, much to Lynch’s disappointment, many never attended their meetings, only recently voicing opposition to the expansion.

    “”Students definitely had the opportunity to comment on it, but no one took initiative until the referendum was about to go on the ballot,”” Lynch said. “”They made no effort to work with it at the time, and now they claim their voices aren’t heard.””

    Several members of the opposition to the referendum declined to comment on this issue, but instead direct students to their Web site, http://www.studentcontrol.org, which emphasizes the importance of maintaining student autonomy over student fees to keep already outrageous costs as low as possible.

    The expansion taskforce then faced the challenge of determining ways to assess students’ interest in the expansion. They surveyed a total of over 3,000 students, including both graduates and undergraduates, to find out exactly what kinds of new places students would desire to see available for use in an expanded Price Center and Student Center. The surveys were conducted partially by telephone and largely by Internet, thoroughly questioning a random sample of students.

    Many of the questions that were most useful to the task force touched on students’ sensitivity to paying additional fees. However, the surveys reported that most students were willing to pay the highest-proposed fees on the Web site to receive the projected benefits of expanded university centers.

    Finding a patron to finance the project has proven to be a less-than-easy task. Although Saul Price donated 10 percent of the $20 million that it took to build the Price Center, the family was somewhat insulted upon being approached for additional money and declined to contribute to the renovations, claiming commitments to other philanthropic organizations according to Lynch.

    The state only provides funds for the university’s educational facilities like offices, classrooms and laboratories, but additional costs that include residential housing, lounges, recreational centers and campus restaurants are not covered. As a result, students are responsible for bearing the financial burden of this costly expansion.

    After evaluating students’ feedback, the taskforce set out to write the actual referendum that is to be voted on this week, which plans to finance the construction and renovation with the $39 quarterly fee that would be instituted upon the expansion’s completion.

    Though there have been concerns that financial aid will not cover the expanded fees, Financial Aid Director Vince De Anda is confident that this will be funded just like any other mandatory university fee.

    “”While I can’t see into the future, it would be very unlikely that a viable financial aid program would not fund anything as basic and predictable as an increase in mandatory fees,”” De Anda said.

    This is not the first time that a university centers expansion referendum has been proposed to the UCSD student body. A similar idea was composed three years ago, but failed, not because of opposition to expansion, but because of a lack of votes to meet the 20 percent threshold. Of the students who voted at that time, 55 percent voted in favor of expanding the university centers.

    The A.S. Council passed the referendum this time by a 14-to-4 vote, but Brown vetoed the resolution, vocalizing an opposition argument that the referendum was not in the best interest of the students.

    Much of the opposition’s stance is based upon the fear that student control would be diminished and student government would not retain much of its desired control over the new facility.

    Several pamphlets have been distributed by those against the expansion referendum to motivate students to strongly oppose the placement of the referendum on the ballot, and the May 2003 issue of the New Indicator calls for educating students about exactly where their money is going.

    “”If we get students who are accountable to the rest of the students making these decisions, the buildings we pay for will run better. For example, students wouldn’t devote huge chunks of the Price Center to the UCSD Catering and other administrative departments that don’t have anything to do with students — that space could all be student organization office space and meeting rooms,”” said the New Indicator. “”Think of what we could do with all of these spaces if they were allocated with students’ needs in mind!””

    A debate that will present both the pro and con views of the expansion referendum will be held on May 13 at 12:30 p.m. in Price Center Plaza. Students who are unsure how to vote on this issue are encouraged to attend to learn about all of the details and implications of the referendum of which they may not be aware — but nonetheless affect them — so they can take the most educated stance on this decision.

    To find out more information on the project and to read comments from the pro and con sides of the issue, visit http://www.expansion.ucsd.edu. Voting to pass or reject the University Centers Expansion Referendum can be done on StudentLink from May 12 through May 16.

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