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Michael Grondin/the Gauntlet

Students’ Union to decide on referendum for new $35 full-time student fee

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Students’ Union executives and faculty representatives will vote on Nov. 20 on whether to hold a referendum on a new student fee that would be used to fund the re-development of MacHall.

The proposed question will ask SU leaders whether students should vote on implementing a new fee that would cost full-time students $35 a semester and part-time students $17.50. According to SU president Raphael Jacob, undergrads showed they are willing to pay a building fee much higher than this in a recent MacHall re-development survey.

“Based on the consultation with students that we’ve had, I think this is something that is worth bringing to referendum,” Jacob said. “Whether the question goes to vote or not, that will be for [Student Legislative Council] to decide.”

The MacHall re-development survey was done last year with 6,350 students participating. The survey showed that a majority of the students surveyed were willing to pay up to $90 for the re-development.

Jacob said the SU is neither advocating for or against the new building fee, but added that he personally thinks paying the extra cash is worth it in the long run.
“It’s ultimately up to students to decide. But it’s certainly not something crazy we’re asking,” Jacob said. “Part of it will be students having to step back objectively and ask, ‘is this a good thing and am I willing to pay for this?’ ”

But some students think the money should come from somewhere else.

University of Calgary Senate student representative Dave Beninger said that as a point of principle, students should not have to pay any new fees and the Alberta government should foot the bill for university infrastructure projects.

“I think the re-development is important, but do I think students should be paying for it? No, I don’t,” Beninger said. “I’ve said it many times before: Alberta is the richest province in the country and Alberta students pay some of the highest fees in the country. At this point, I don’t support any additional fees for students.”

Beninger said he thinks scarce post-secondary funding is forcing the SU to ask students to cover the costs of re-developing MacHall.

“It seems like the SU is in a tricky position because they obviously need to get funds [for this project] and the only place they can really go is to students,” he said. “But I think the SU should push the government more to pay for this.”

SU vice-president student life Ben Cannon acknowledged that a new fee will be cumbersome for some students — especially when they likely won’t attend the U of C once the five year construction project is finished — but pointed out that students paid building fees for MacHall projects in the past, making the building what it is today.

“The way I think of it is that in the past when [MacHall] was being built, students were kicking-in for that. It was re-developed a couple of times, then students kicked in for that,” Cannon said. “If you’re a current U of C student, you’re already taking advantage of several re-developments that students paid for over the years. So I think of it as paying it forward.”

Past building fees cost U of C students $6 in 1953 and $17 in 1965. Adjusted for inflation, these fees would be worth $52 and $124 today. The SU has also taken out loans in the past to pay for renovations.

The SU pegs the total cost of the building at $155 million. Changes to the building will be informed by information collected under last year’s MacHall student consultation — a survey on the MacHall re-development that was first approved by Student Legislative Council in 2012.

If passed, the referendum will coincide with the SU elections next March.

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