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With Student Life moving to SUB, future of U-House up in the air

The completion of the Student Union Building (SUB) in two months will mean a noticeable shift in amenities and services on the Abbotsford campus.

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By Michael Scoular (The Cascade) – Email

Print Edition: February 4, 2015

Image: Megan Lambert

Image: Megan Lambert

The completion of the Student Union Building (SUB) in two months will mean a noticeable shift in amenities and services on the Abbotsford campus. In addition to new gathering and study spaces, AfterMath, and other student-run operations, Student Life, whose current site is in U-House; the Career Centre and Campus Card office from B building; and Advising Centres from various locations around campus will be moving into the SUB.

As a result, UFV’s campus planning department is in the process of deciding how to fill the vacancies left by those amenities and services. Craig Toews, executive director of campus planning, suggests the freed space will provide some needed room for instruction, among other uses.

“At the Abbotsford campus, there’s a fairly significant space crunch,” Toews says. “We’re currently at about 20 per cent over capacity from an instructional point of view, so we’re really thinking strategically around the re-allocation of those spaces.”

Right now, Toews and other staff are assessing where to renovate and what makes sense in terms of each building’s layout. The rooms that will be left by CIVL, The Cascade, and SUS in C building may become classrooms or spaces for visual arts use. Toews adds that the areas opened up in B building will still be for university staff.

“Most likely some kind of administrative office space,” Toews says. “[It’s] what we’re in most need of right now.”

The one undecided location on campus is also the one most frequented by students: U-House. Toews calls it “the last piece” they’re working on.

Student Life currently shares the building with the Centre for Indo-Canadian Studies, offering a space where students have room to hang out, play games, and visit with Student Life staff to set up events or talk about what’s happening on campus.

Student Life director Kyle Baillie says that setup will be replicated in the SUB, pointing out a lounge space, a kitchen, and improved offices for staff.

“Ultimately we want students to feel at home here and to feel comfortable … so we’re hoping the physical space will create some of that,” he says.

However, plans for the two locations — U-House and the SUB — point to different purposes each fulfills.

U-House, a medium-sized building midway between student residences, the gym, and the library, is a casual setting that students know well. Student Life programmer Martin Kelly estimates that hundreds of students drop by every week.

The SUB, organized around a central space Toews describes as “a mall design,” is projected to be a thriving activity hub, but exactly how the space will work is so far unknown to Student Life staff, according to Kelly.

“We haven’t had a tour of the facility yet, so we don’t know what to expect,” Kelly explains. “We’re anxiously looking forward to our chance to tour the facility.”

While Toews estimates the final approved plans for U-House will not be disclosed until March, it is known that the location will not continue to be a student lounge. Proposals for the building are currently before the Campus Space Planning committee. One from SUS would add a student service that would then have to go to student referendum before  being completely approved for funding.

SUS president Ryan Petersen explains their proposal is just one of several put forward by different groups at the university.

“It’s before the committee right now, and whether or not that goes through or not, we’ll see how that goes,” Petersen says. “Right now, there’s a conference centre [proposal], another group wants to turn it into a cultural centre, [and] another group wants to turn it into office space.” So far, Toews says only that U-House will not be used for classrooms.

Meanwhile, Student Life’s new space on the SUB’s first floor will include the addition of a new “Peer Support Centre,” which feeds into the overarching idea of the building as an activity hub.

Jody Gordon, who oversaw the development of the project at the administrative level, describes the prospective centre as a help desk or directory where students can get directions to services in the university from other students, rather than from staff, which Gordon says can be intimidating for new students.

“Students already informally talk to each other, and we [will] formalize those conversations,” Gordon says. “There’ll be an area, similar to my office where you’ll have some couches, you’ll have resources, there’ll be some computers, if you maybe wanted to walk over and show a student how to do something on the web.”

The Peer Support Centre service will be funded externally, not by the university. Just as the Envision Athletic Centre and RBC Arts Peer Mentor program are funded by recognized external partners, Coast Capital Savings, Gordon explains, has given UFV $50,000 to start the service. Annual reports will determine if equivalent funding will continue for three additional years. After that, Gordon says how the program will be supported is uncertain.

“We’ll do our best to find funds within the institution, within my division … [and] there might be another investor out there that comes along and says, ‘Wow, what a great program,’” Gordon explains.

The idea for the centre came from research in community criminal justice done by student and varsity athlete Jasper Moedt. After Gordon his report on peer support, the university funded a flight and visit to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), which also has a Peer Support Centre.

“He got to go and actually see [the centre at SAIT], and that was a lot of what then shaped his recommendations for us,” Gordon says.

Baillie will supervise the service, through which he says students will receive training so they can direct their peers through the university’s resource options.

“We’re looking at creating a volunteer pool that will be our front-line service, backed by co-op students,” he says. Gordon explains co-op students will be tasked with internal research, while practicum students will also be part of the Centre. “And then staff support [will be] behind that,” Baillie adds.

Kelly also has ideas for how to bring students closer together which have less to do with the new building, and more with reviving an old tradition.

“I would really like to see community dinners come back,” Kelly says. “Why? Because they were an awesome way to engage and involve students that otherwise were not going to get involved.”

The regular dinners, which used to be held together through Student Life and SUS when Student Life managed student clubs and associations, have, aside from UCM’s pancake breakfasts, all but stopped at UFV.

“Those unfortunately fell by the wayside,” SUS president Ryan Petersen explains. “Some policy changes at the university made them a little bit trickier to do.”

However, through the SUB, which will give student groups more freedom to arrange events, Petersen expects this kind of collaboration could begin again. “We’d be happy to work with a club or an association if they needed food catered,” he says. “As far as we’re concerned and aware, this is our space; we are able to have our food come out of our kitchens.”

With files from Megan Lambert.

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