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Mayor and Olympic athlete speak to students about athletics complex

MAYOR MILLER: David Miller speaks with passion to students about the exciting opportunity for a world-class athletics complex at UTSC.

Students at the University of Toronto Scarborough gathered on March 3 to hear from Toronto Mayor David Miller, Olympic swimming medalist Liz Warden, and other speakers at a student-organized town hall meeting about the proposed Athletics & Recreation complex on our campus.

The long-term benefits of the proposed athletic facility for students and the broader community were discussed at the event in the Student Centre. Speakers included: Alex Dow, community coordinator of Malvern Action for Neighbourhood Change; and Professor Franco Vaccarino, the principal of UTSC. Student speakers were Amir Bashir, acting president of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) and John Kapageridis, president of the Scarborough College Athletics Association (SCAA).

Two student groups, SCSU and the SCAA, which are leading the Yes campaign in favour of a student levy to help fund the new athletics and recreation complex, organized the event. They were aiming to provide more details to students about the complex and the upcoming referendum (March 17 to 19) on the levy. For more details, click here.

The proposal calls for a two Olympic-sized, 52-metre swimming pools, a 10-metre diving tank, multipurpose gymnasiums, a running track, racquet courts, and fitness and training areas. The campus has had a plan for years to enhance athletics, but the Pan Am Games provided a chance to partner with the federal, provincial and municipal government and the city to share the costs of bringing a state-of-the-art facility here.

“I’m here today to ask you to say yes to this wonderful facility at UTSC,” the mayor told the students, conveying a sense of passion and excitement for the complex. “It’s about Toronto, and it’s about Scarborough. You’re vastly underserved in athletic facilities, and you have the chance to change that. You deserve a world-class facility, and you can help make UTSC a remarkable institution that is home to a facility unlike anything else in Canada, for your students and your community.”

The recent Olympic Games in Vancouver are an example of the kind of spirit and energy that sports can produce, Miller noted. “This facility will provide an amazing opportunity for current and future students, aspiring athletes and the broader community.”

Liz Warden, a U of T alumna and silver medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympics, said she was born and raised in Scarborough and would have liked to train competitively in a local facility, but Scarborough lacked the calibre of pool she needed. That meant getting up at 4:30 every morning in high school to travel downtown for access to aquatic training facilities. “It would have been amazing to train closer to home, but that wasn’t available,” she said. “When I found out that UTSC had the opportunity to get a world-class facility right here, I was very excited. More young athletes will have the opportunity to train locally.”

Huge spinoff benefits from the facility include enhanced transportation, with the Light Rapid Transit (LRT) expected soon after the complex construction, the mayor said. More part-time jobs for students, added student space for clubs and students following the vacancy of the current athletics building, and a lasting legacy for the community, are among the other benefits, according to Kapageridis.

Students asked about the cost of the facility, noting that the levy for full-time students is $40 per term until 2014 and $140 per term after that. For part-time students, the levy is $8 per part-time student before 2014, and $28 after that. However, every student who contributes to the levy before the building opens will receive a credit for the full amount of their levy – dollar for dollar – to be put towards their athletic fees in the initial years, the student organizers noted. Kapageridis also added that an endowment fund has been set up to generate annual income to cover ongoing expenses for the facility. Even after the levy, the total fee package for Scarborough students will remain in the middle range compared to other U of T students going forward, organizers said.

Miller expressed empathy for students who are on tight budgets, noting that he worked all through university, including jobs on a construction crew that paved roads and cleaning toilets to pay his way. “I understand the challenges and costs facing students, but I ask you to look at the opportunity you have to bring the best facility of its kind in the country right to your campus.”

“This facility will completely transform our campus,” said Kapageridis, a fourth-year student. “I’ve been working on this project for two years now, and this proposal is a really great deal for students. We’re getting so much more for the same price. The complex will become a hub for the students and the whole community. It will really put us on the map. The benefits of voting yes will resonate far beyond our campus, for years to come.”

© University of Toronto Scarborough