Wires peek out through a hole along the floor of the brightly painted blue wall.
Standing beside the hole, where a baseboard should be in his Student Union Building office, St. Thomas University students’ union president Mark Livingstone cracks a joke.
“Here’s an example of our deferred maintenance.”
And this is just one of the reasons why the STUSU will ask STU administration for a new home on Feb. 16.
An update on this story is available here.
“It is time for the union to find new space,” Livingstone said Friday.
In a stairwell near his office, two cracks in the wall radiate away from a window like a spider’s web. Someone has tried to patch them up before with crack-fill tape. The cracks came back.
The SUB has $10 million in deferred maintenance according to James Brown, executive director of Residential Life, Campus & Conference Services at the University of New Brunswick.
The work includes $750,000 for the roof, new windows for $800,000, replacing flooring for $60,000, new exterior doors for $300,000; the list goes on.
Discussions have taken place to introduce a student fee to cover the cost of repairs which could be up to $150 per student.
The figure, calculated by Brown, is “enough to be a significant contribution,” he said.
“That’s a compromise between the maximum that I think is practical – and likely to be approved – and what is actually needed.”
No fee has been approved yet.
UNB student union president Jordan Thompson said a fee would need to be approved by a student referendum.
“It is too late this year from the student’s union perspective,” Thompson said.
But Livingston is proposing STUSU has nothing to do with these renovations, moving the union from the 860.25 square feet of office space they currently occupy for free – three rooms in the same hallway as The Brunswickan offices – and move to a space on campus or into a Windsor Street home.
The move from the SUB could help STU students avoid paying the possible $150 maintenance fee, he added.
STUSU does have a small office space in the basement of Edmund Casey Hall, which is used by clubs and societies and as the used book room.
When the SUB opened in 1969, Livingstone said it was meant to be a space for students to study and hold student government offices.
Study space in buildings opened since then at STU means students use the SUB less frequently, he said.
He believes the location of the STUSU offices contributes to students not knowing what STUSU is about.
“So if we’re having all these issues coming together at once – the SUB is in need of repair, the UNB students want more control, and we want more on-campus space because STU student use of the building has been [in] decline for a while – when you put all those things together, I feel as if I should be asking why we should stay here [in the SUB], and start looking at alternatives.”
Informal discussions with STU administrators led him to start looking into the possibility of moving the offices into one of the university-owned properties on Windsor Street. The university owns eight houses. Six are occupied by students.
University spokesman Jeffrey Carleton said administration needs to formally hear what STUSU is proposing before saying if they’re interested or not.
“We’re open to listening to what they have to say, what their proposal is…but at the same time we want to see if there are opportunities for space on campus,” said Carleton.
“We need to understand a couple of issues from them. What exactly they’re looking for, how [many] square feet they would need. Based on that we’d sit down and look at any possibilities on campus or on Windsor Street.”
Livingstone said there are several roadblocks, including getting the university on board as well as city zoning, which must be overcome before anything goes beyond the planning stage.
The homes are zoned R1, the most strict residential zoning in the city.
The university would have to fill out an application to the city in order to change the zoning to one for office space.
The multi-stage process would take up to four and a half months and involve public consultations at city hall, which would require a compelling argument that states why it would be in the neighbours’ interest to change the zoning.
Another roadblock is money.
“The [students’] union now is in a position where now we don’t have to pay for the space that we’re in so ideally we want to be in a similar situation,” said Livingstone.
“How much are we willing to pay? That might be enough as it is to make us continue with the status quo.”
By looking at the union’s budget, you wouldn’t know it exists. But there is a fund, called the extra budgetary fund, where money is deposited at the end of the fiscal year if the union has a surplus. They have a total of $136,000 available.
Over the years, various members of the union have made plans to spend the funds. Most recent suggestions include creating a scholarship and starting a STUSU bookstore.
Livingstone said if renovations to the building are required, the money might come from this fund.
With all of these hurdles, Livingstone knows a new office won’t come to fruition while he’s president.
“If we did decide to move up there, I don’t think we’d be in before the fall and that’s assuming a bunch of things go right.”
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