'Historic day,' as plans for student commons approved Brittany Arjune
One small step towards building the first student-run student centre on campus, one giant increase in student fees.

Though the student commons is over a year away from construction and over two away from occupancy, a project decades in the making – to bring St. George campus its first student-run student centre – was effectively finalized as the Planning and Budget Committee of Governing Council voted unanimously in favour of two motions to push the project to higher stages of planning, in a meeting at Simcoe Hall Wednesday evening, May 15.

It was a “historic day” according to Provost and Vice President Cheryl Misak, who in her introductory statement explained: “discussions around the student commons began before I came to Simcoe Hall.” The Provost also underscored the fact that the St. George campus is the only of the three U of T campuses that does not have a centralized, student-run student centre.

The commons will be situated at 230 College st., a five story building currently housing the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. The Daniels Faculty is set to move to 1 Spadina Crescent, an iconic building currently undergoing renovations. September 2015 is the earliest the commons will be ready for student use. Before opening its doors to students, the commons will receive a large-scale renovation, as well as an addition of approximately 600 gross square metres.

Speaking before the meeting, current and former University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) presidents, Munib Sajjad and Shaun Shepherd respectively, explained the possibilities offered by the new commons. “This commons is fit for holding events, facilitating advocacy initiatives, and creating a place of collaboration for the hundreds of clubs which will be calling the commons home,” said Sajjad. “Working with the Office of Student Life, the commons will become a launch pad for student service delivery.”

The centre will also offer bookable multi-purpose spaces for various campus clubs and organizations, as well as being open to any of the union’s 46 000 members. “The purpose of this project is not just service-focused, but also to reinvigorate this campus, and to create a central space for students to congregate around for events, for academics, and for whatever else the future brings,” said Shaun Shepherd.

A levy of five dollars per session has been paid by all full-time undergraduate students since the fall of 2008, following a referendum held by the UTSU. That levy will continue until the student commons opens its doors to students, at which point the levy will raise to $20.75 per session to cover operational costs. The debt for the commons is planned to be paid off in approximately 25 years, at which point the levy will cease.

The result of the meeting is that a recommendation has now been made to the Academic Board of Governing Council to approve in principle both a fifty page document called the “Student Commons Agreement” published in a memorandum issued by the office of the Provost May 1, 2013, as well as some basic details regarding the commons, e.g. the location, the size, the funding, and the timeline.

Although things move slowly at U of T, between the web of move-outs, move-ins, renovations and the various levels of bureaucracy, the tone of Wednesday’s meeting was very positive. Several committee members showed their admiration and gratitude toward the hard work put in by both the UTSU and others to get the discussions to this point. There will be a student commons in the not-too-distant future; for the students, it is now simply a matter of waiting.

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  • Subtitle: Governing Council unanimously votes in favour of student centre
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