News, SSMU

More questions than answers raised at the SSMU building closure information session

The University Centre will close in Winter 2018 to carry out major renovations, including adding new washrooms and replacing the entire heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) and electrical systems. After initially announcing the closure to the student body via a Facebook event on Sept. 29, representatives from McGill and the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) addressed the closure at an information session on Oct. 12. During the meeting, they revealed that there is asbestos in the building’s aging HVAC system that could be disturbed during construction. As a result, all of the building’s tenants, including the offices of over 50 student clubs and services, must relocate.

The building, which is owned by McGill, is scheduled to close on Feb. 15, 2018, and reopen one floor at a time between August and December 2018. Tenants that are unable to relocate during that period, such as Gerts Bar, will temporarily close. While SSMU will not have to pay rent to McGill during the closure, the society will forego between $300,000 and $400,000 in revenue and relocation costs.

Adrian Nicolicescu, a senior project manager with McGill Facilities Management and Ancillary Services, explained that the University Centre cannot remain partially open during renovations because the work could spread the asbestos in the HVAC system.

“Asbestos is not dangerous [only] if it is not disturbed,” Nicolicescu said. “We have many types of [safety] processes in place while we conduct this work, and [the asbestos] is one of the reasons that we’re vacating the building.”

Nicolicescu emphasized that McGill intends to minimize the disruption the closure will cause to students. However, SSMU has already been criticized for using a Facebook event to announce the closure, especially because McGill notified SSMU of the renovation plans last March.

Benson Cook, U2 Arts, was one of many students who expressed his frustration on the Facebook event page, calling SSMU’s use of this platform to announce the closure “unprofessional.” His post garnered dozens of likes from fellow students.

“I was so frustrated I felt the need to voice my anger,” Cook wrote in an email to The McGill Tribune. “There wasn’t even a press release put out, they just expected that everyone would see this obscure Facebook event that they created.”

Following the release of the Facebook event, SSMU VP Internal Maya Koparkar sent out an email to all SSMU members informing them of the building’s closure on Oct. 7. Tenants of the University Centre had been notified a week earlier.

SSMU General Manager Ryan Hughes began his remarks at the conference by apologizing for the poor communication. He later said that SSMU had chosen not to publicize the closure earlier because the full details of the project were only recently finalized.

Hughes also confirmed that SSMU is working with a local realtor in addition to the McGill administration to find alternative spaces for all of the University Centre’s tenants, but asked concerned groups to meet with him to discuss their individual needs.

“What I request of all occupants of the building is that you know your groups, your activities, and your network better than we do,” Hughes said. “If you do have a link or a resource that you would like to explore […] as an alternative space, we would also like to hear that.”

Anna Abraham, the Executive Director of McGill Players’ Theatre, nonetheless expressed continued frustration with SSMU’s handling of the closure. According to Abraham, the late timing of the announcement meant that the group had already spent significant money on planning its spring plays, which it may now be unable to perform if SSMU cannot relocate it to a new theatre.

“We still don’t have any information,” Abraham said. “We’ve tried to get in contact and set up meetings with Ryan [Hughes] since September. I have struggled to get answers from the SSMU executive.”

Other students at the session asked whether the spaces chosen for relocation would be physically accessible, and if funding would be available to compensate groups for any financial losses.

“We don’t have as many answers as we would like,” Hughes said. “But as we get closer to the [closure] date we will have those answers, and there will be support for you.”

However, some groups may ultimately be on their own.

“If you have not been contacted [by mid-November], then you can assume that we have not found a suitable location for your group,” Hughes said. “I’m not going to commit unlimited funds for groups if they want to rent spaces at a high cost-per-square-footage if it can be avoided.”

Further updates about the closure will be provided through the SSMU listserv and website. Another information session is planned for November.

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