McGill, News, SSMU

Closure plans leave SSMU building tenants uncertain

In the aftermath of the announcement of the SSMU building scheduled closure on March 17, 2018, over 50 clubs and services that use the building are struggling with plans to find new offices. Clubs whose relocation plans are finalized include the Peer Support Centre, the Legal Information Clinic, and MSERT. The complete shutdown, planned to continue through the Winter 2019 semester, is necessary to construct a rooftop mechanical room, among other renovations. While the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) must relocate all of the building’s tenants, many group leaders say this assistance has come too late to be helpful.

Lower-profile groups, such as the Alegria Contemporary Ballet Company, are especially concerned about slipping through the cracks in the closure. The company’s president, Zoë Goldstein, understands that SSMU is in a difficult position, yet was dismayed by the fact that her group only found out about the closure through word of mouth.

Although Alegria does not perform in the SSMU building, it uses the building to rehearse for free. According to Goldstein, the group has already spent roughly $3,000 to rent a theatre next spring, and may now lack the necessary resources to obtain practice space.

“I expect that [SSMU] should have reached out to us right away,” Goldstein said. “The closure will cost us a lot a lot of money, and we’re on a tight budget. It’s difficult to find studio space, especially on weeknights [….] It’s a tremendous source of anxiety for me.”

A more visible tenant experiencing relocation pains is the Midnight Kitchen (MK) collective, a free vegan lunch service that operates from the third floor of the SSMU building. Although MK was notified of the closure in advance, Wade Walker, a paid employee of MK, would have preferred additional outreach from SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes.

“[SSMU] did initially, in late August, say they had found us a space in a building on Peel [Street] that a lot of other services are going into,” Walker said. “But we brought up concerns that it wasn’t a commercial kitchen. Can we move our [food service] permit there? What happens with the equipment there because it’s not industrial?”

According to Walker, it was for these reasons that Hughes later ruled out moving MK to the Peel Street location, effectively bringing the collective back to square one.

“We don’t have any strong leads right now,” Walker said. “I guess we’re getting a little bit worried. It would have been nice if they had not offered us a space that was not going to work […] because it cut out a month’s worth of time that we thought we had it, and weren’t actively looking for other spaces.”

Although Walker expects that MK’s operations will return to normal after the SSMU building reopens, if the collective is unable to find an interim kitchen space, they may have to provide fewer meals or only offer cold foods. Walker also noted that some of the collective’s paid staff might have to search for new employment.

Other students facing temporary job loss are the employees of Gerts Bar, which will temporarily close.

An employee of the bar, who wished to remain anonymous to avoid retribution from management, alleged that Gerts knew of the impending closure in March, when it re-hired staff for this year. The student explained that they were not told that their employment would be cut short, and only learned of the closure along with the rest of the student body in September.

“My initial reaction [to the closure] was shock and disbelief,” the employee said. “We had signed contracts that were supposed to go until the end of April [2018] We have received no notice as to what is going to happen to those contracts after the building closes.”

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