U of C President Elizabeth Cannon speaks during a senate meeting.
Louie Villanueva/the Gauntlet

Backlash over office renovations continues

Administration defends money spent under barrage of criticism

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How many angry students can $8.8 million buy?

Students lashed out this week after learning about $8.8 million in renovations to the Administration Building that included changes in the executive offices many have deemed as lavish.

During a senate meeting on Nov. 26, U of C student senate representative Dave Beninger spoke to a full room of university officials outlining concerns brought to him by students.

“As an elected student senator, students have made it overwhelmingly clear to me that they have problems with this spending,” Beninger said. “They are coming up to me everyday, asking for something to be done.”

The renovation included a private staircase that cost over $150,000, large vice-president offices and a private bathroom and shower for the president’s office. Around $3 million of the renovations were on non-cosmetic renovations considered necessary for maintenance.

Soon after the $8.8 million renovations were brought to the public’s attention, a group of students created a Facebook page called “Why did the U of C waste our $8 million? Demand accountability now.” One of those students was Caitlyn Madlener, who is president of the Canadian Advocates of Freedom and Liberty at the U of C.

Madlener said she thought the renovations were a betrayal of the public’s trust.

“Administration is not just representing students, but also the people of Alberta,” Madlener said. “They’re supposed to be trustees of people’s money and they’re obviously not too worried about that if they’re spending this much on renovations to their own office.”

As of Nov. 27, the Facebook page had 478 likes.

Third-year law and society student Brittany Scott created a Tumblr blog called “What 8 million dollars could have bought” after talking with some friends in the Q Centre. Suggestions on the blog include 152,282 student health plans, 80,000 $100 textbooks and renovations to Craigie Hall.

The week of protest left administrators on the defence.

During the Nov. 26 senate meeting, U of C president Elizabeth Cannon said she was suprised by the backlash.

“The building was in dire need of some upgrades,” Cannon said. “The decision to go ahead with these upgrades was made by the Board of Governors. It has broad representation, which includes public members, the faculty association, AUPE, Students’ Union, the Alumni Association, Graduate Students’ Association and General Faculties Council.”

U of C vice-provost facilities management and development Bob Ellard said the Board of Governors approved the renovations and the university made the information public long before it became an issue last week.

“It was in UToday on two occasions, it went to the board where every community on campus is represented. There was no opposition,” Ellard said. “Why is it that now someone is saying ‘I really have a fundamental disagreement with that’? ”

Ellard said details of the renovations were included in the plan the board voted on.

“The documents that I brought to the board show the staircase. They show the president’s change room in her office,” he said. “All of that information was available on campus and no one expressed a concern.”

He also pointed out that the $8.8 million is the total cost of renovations for the whole administration building. Administration estimates that $4.6 million went towards the executive offices.

The money came from the school’s capital budget. This is seperate from the operating budget, which includes things like staff wages and enrolment rates.