Salvaging student spaces

“This is supposed to be the student union,” Portland State student Tracy Earll emphasized. She was speaking yesterday morning at the University Space Committee meeting, arguing her case to have space recently made available in Smith Memorial Student Union allocated to student affairs or student organizations.

The space in question is located on part of the second and third floors of Smith, known as Library East, the previous home of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The second floor space is currently occupied by Telecom, the telecommunications service for the university.

The university wants to move academic offices into Library East, possibly the Office of Graduate Studies and Research. Student Affairs also submitted a proposal, which included plans to move the Disabilities Resource Center to that space, expand the IASC and the Women’s Resource Center and Student Legal Services into that space. That proposal has been denied, “is my understanding” Earll, also a member of the student building fee committee, said. “They haven’t given it any more attention, where they’ve continued to talk about graduate studies moving in there.”

However, the Smith building is primarily funded by student fees for student use. To move academic offices into Smith, Earll argues, “just doesn’t seem fair.”

Smith Memorial Student Union, once known as Smith Memorial Center, was built over nearly a decade in four stages. The space known as Library East was initially intended to hold library stacks and, therefore, has different ceiling heights than the rest of the building. The first and third floor mezzanines are part of Library East.

According to Mike Irish, director of facilities and a member of the University Space Committee, Library East is paid for by educational and general-fund money. This does not include, however, the current seismic upgrading that the entire Smith building is undergoing, which is being paid for by the student building fee.

The student building fee is paid by all students every term, starting at $23 for one credit and increments $2 with each credit with a maximum of $45. This fee is collected by the Oregon University System and is paid by students at all universities under its umbrella.

In February of 2000, then ASPSU president Tim Young presented the proposed allocations for the student building fee money at PSU: $5.8 million to Smith Union, $3.5 to Helen Gordon Childcare Center, $800,000 to the Native American Center and $800,000 to the Walk of the Heroines project.

However, the money was allocated differently and it is unclear who made the decisions. Besides altering some of the proposed allocations, $3.5 million was also distributed to the Student Health Center.

This money was spent on renovating the University Center Building to move the new health center there. The new Student Health and Counseling Center opened in that building this fall.

However, Earll said, there is no record that the students had a say in that decision.

“At this point, I feel that students have sufficiently paid for this space (Library East),” she said.

At the University Space Committee meeting yesterday, Cathy Dyck, associate vice president for finance and planning, argued the university’s need for the space.

“We’re out of space at this university,” she said. “We have no place to go.”

Dyck added that the only other option for the university is to look at purchasing space, and money is tight under the current budget crisis.

Earll, also the chair of the Student Fee Committee, said she understood the university’s dilemma but that students are also short on space and money.

“The students are facing the exact same problem,” Earll said. “We don’t have the space.”

Irish said, “I don’t think we’re going to resolve this here today,” but proposed developing a five-year plan for addressing student space.

Earll said she doesn’t want a five-year plan; she wants to see students given space in their Union now.

In the meantime, she is waiting for Irish and the committee to present her with more facts and numbers about the building and the money spent on it over the years.

Irish promised the committee would continue to discuss and deliberate the issue and would come to a decision “soon.”