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Students say new athletic facilities will transform UTSC

Student Amir Bashir, acting president of the SCSU, speaks to students about a new Athletics Complex. He encourages them to vote yes in a referendum on March 17, 18 and 19. (Photo by Ken Jones.)

The Town Hall meeting organized to provide the campus community with details on the new athletic facility for the University of Toronto Scarborough drew many students to the Meeting Place on Wednesday.

With the news that Toronto has won the Pan Am Games for 2015, the UTSC campus is slated as a key venue for the games, but student representatives told the crowd that the benefits would extend far beyond the games and provide a lasting legacy for the campus and community.

The games make possible a partnership to create a state-of-the-art athletic facility, with plans for two Olympic-sized, 52-metre swimming pools, a 10-metre diving tank, multipurpose gymnasiums, a running track, racquet courts, and fitness and training areas.

A huge banner was unfurled over the balcony above the Meeting Place bearing the phrase “I Deserve World Class...Vote YES!” as part of a new information campaign launched by a student committee. Details about the facility can be seen on the campus web site at www.utsc.utoronto.ca and on a new student web site at www.scsu.ca/yes

The meeting was emceed by student Milad Moshfeghian, a third-year student and representative of the Scarborough College Athletics Association, and featured several student speakers and guest Principal Franco Vaccarino. The open format welcomed questions from students.

"This Athletics Complex will be unparalleled by any other building at this campus,” said Moshfeghian. “It will be a world-class, state-of-the-art facility.”

Emily Kakouris, a third-year student and part-time employee in the Athletics Centre, said the prospect of these facilities at this price was a fantastic deal for all students. “These plans are so exciting I’m almost drooling,” she said. “Our current facilities were built for 4,000 students, and there isn’t nearly enough room for everything.” Kakouris noted that the new facility would also bring many more part-time job opportunities for students in the various venues, both during the games and afterwards.

Student Amir Bashir, acting president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), said “I’m here to ask you to vote ‘yes’ to opportunity and ‘yes’ to better our campus community,” said Bashir.

“The SCSU wanted an agreement from administration that we students would be involved in the future plans, and we didn’t agree to a referendum until we got that promise.” Students will be at the table with senior administration for future discussions as plans for the campus go forward, he said.

Bashir added that, “It upsets and frustrates me that championship teams on campus have to practice in nooks and crannies, and that students have to run outside in winter because we don’t have an indoor running track. Many of our up-and-coming clubs and groups don’t have enough places to gather because of our lack of space.”

Student athletes will not be the only ones to benefit, he said. The new facility will be available for all students. As well, it will serve to enhance the reputation of the campus to prospective employers, faculty, and future students, Bashir added.

The new facility will free up space elsewhere on campus for performing arts and music and student clubs, he added. The games bring the benefit of a hard deadline and much more spectacular facilities far sooner and for the same price, the speakers said.

Bashir encouraged students to vote in the upcoming referendum on March 17, 18 and 19 in the Student Centre. The referendum deals with the question of a student levy to pay a portion of costs for the facility. The levy will be $40 per term for each full-time student and $8 per part-time student per term during the construction phase until 2014. All fees paid by student prior to the opening of the building can be used as a credit towards full membership when the facility opens.

“When we’re talking about a student levy, I asked myself many of the same questions that other students are asking me,” said student Mohsin Jeelani, SCSU vice-president operations & chief financial officer. “This is an investment in the future of this place, and the implications are enormous for students and the community.”

Modest plans were already in place for enhanced athletic facilities, but the Pan Am Games gave the campus an opportunity to partner with more organizations and levels of government for a better deal, Jeelani said. “The reality is that we’re getting so much more for the same price.”

The original plan was for a $30-million building to be paid for with student levies. With the Pan Am Games partnerships, students will get a $170 million facility, but the levy will stay fixed at $30 million, or just 18 per cent of the total cost.

On the question of a student levy, I’m sure that many of the students who paid levies for the Student Centre asked the same questions we are today,” said Jeelani. “Now we can see how much the Student Centre is used and how big a part of campus life it is today and how much we all use it. Like those students, we have an opportunity to step up, be leaders and create a legacy.”

Asked by one of the students whether this campus needs ‘the Cadillac version’ that includes two Olympic sized pools, the student speakers responded that our students would have paid the same levy for a much more modest facility, but the Pan Am Games made possible partnerships with other levels of government in a rare opportunity.

“We can now get the Cadillac at the same price we would’ve paid for the Toyota Tercel,” the student speakers said after the meeting. “This is such a great deal, because we’re getting much more than we would have otherwise.”

Enhanced transportation links, more food choices, and possibilities for additional cultural spaces are all possibilities for the campus in future due to this project, Bashir added.

The $170 million complex will be funded from a combination of sources, including federal and provincial levels of government and the university, along with funds from a student levy.

Currently, UTSC students pay the lowest fees among all University of Toronto students because our campus has fewer services, but even after the full fees are in operation, Scarborough fees will remain in the middle range across U of T.

The local community will also benefit hugely from more recreational facilities, Bashir said, noting a lack of community centres in the area. The United Way has identified several nearby areas among its 13 priority neighbourhoods, and those communities will all be able to access these needed facilities, according to Principal Vaccarino. For more details, keep watching the news web site or visit the Referendum website at www.scsu.ca/yes.




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