Student Fee Committee considers Wiewel’s proposal for future of Student Union and Viking Pavilion

On Monday, Nov. 17, Portland State President Wim Wiewel paid a visit to the Student Fee Committee’s meeting in Smith Memorial Student Union in his latest attempt to secure funds for The Viking Pavilion.

The project is a major renovation of the Peter Stott Center that would, according to a press release by the University, add 30,000 square feet of space for studying, tutoring, advising, and health and physical education classes. It will also include a 5,500-seat pavilion that will provide space for sporting events, academic symposia, concerts and other programs.

Wiewel originally hoped to procure $2 million from the SFC, but at the Dec. 3 SFC meeting he presented a new proposal requesting only $1.5 million. The Pavilion isn’t the only renovation project on the SFC’s mind. Wiewel’s request comes at a time when preliminary studies have begun to shed light on just how badly the Smith Memorial Student Union needs renovation.

With deadlines looming for the Pavilion’s construction and budget cuts slashing funding across the board, administrators and students alike will have to make decisions about how both renovation projects progress.

Viking Pavilion Seeks Funding, Shooting for 2016 Groundbreaking

PSU Foundation Communications Manager, Tanya Gross, said that in 2013, Wiewel along with PSU students and volunteers went to the Oregon Legislature to request $20 million in state bonds to make the Pavilion a reality. The legislature approved $20 million in bonds for the project and required that PSU match the bonds with $20 million in public and private fundraising ventures. To date, PSU Foundation has raised nearly $14 million for the Pavilion, Gross explained.

If the SFC were to approve $1.5 million for the project, Wiewel is still left with $3.5 million to raise before the bonds are to be sold in January 2015 when design is expected to begin.

Unlike the SMSU renovation project, the Pavilion has not undergone preliminary surveys to gauge student interest. However, Christopher Broderick, associate vice president for communications, explained that this is not due to differential treatment among projects. In order to get fundraising approval, present policy requires a proposal to be presented to and voted upon by the Board of Trustees. However, since the legislature approved the sale of state bonds to build the Pavilion in 2013, fundraising for the Pavilion began nearly a year before the Board of Trustees was installed.

Though it is not clear where the remaining $3.5 million would be raised, and Wiewel was unavailable to comment, the support of Oregon Legislature has greatly shaped the project. Gross remarked that the university hopes to break ground in 2016 after designs have been finalized.

In a press release published after the legislature approved the bonds, Wiewel said the Pavilion would address several student concerns—including space and accessibility.

“This is good news for our students, our partners and our community,” Wiewel said. “The Pavilion will add collaborative study space and double as a community and athletic event center. And [the project] will create jobs. We are grateful to the legislature and private donors for making [this] possible.”

Smith Memorial Student Union Completes Preliminary Surveying

In 2011, the Associated Students of Portland State University allocated funds to conduct feasibility studies on the possibility of maintaining, renovating or relocating the Smith Memorial Student Union. SMSU was built over a period of four phases in the 1960s and many familiar with the building lament that the building fails to serve students.

Jonathen Gates, the current university affairs director, also served as the vice chair for the student fee committee last year and currently works in the Conferences and Events Office.

“We get so many requests [for space] constantly from student groups and we have to turn away a tremendous number of them, just because we don’t have [it]. In a regular week, we can easily turn away, like, half of the student requests for space that come in purely because the space is occupied,” Gates said.

SMSU space is calculated by two figures: available and usable space. According to the Student Union 2020 Report produced for ASPSU by Perkins + Will, an architectural design firm, the available space of SMSU is 238,000 square feet. Considering the roughly 50,000 square feet occupied by administrative offices and other non-traditional union functions, the space accessible to students is relatively small at just 178,000 square feet.

“If you look at SMSU on a scale between universities half our size versus the size of their unions, our union looks enormous in one figure. But then whenever you remove all of the useless space you actually find it’s kind of small and not at all accommodating for the students we have here. Our services are really disparate and spread out in such a way that accessibility is a major issue as well,” Gates said.

Last year, the SFC set aside $150,000 to conduct a feasibility study, from which the Smith 2020 Report was produced. The report addresses student needs, cost and a set of conceptual designs for a range of different costs.

“They’re going to do fee tolerance studying. For instance, what is the reasonable tolerance that students would have for a fee? For the amount of money that would potentially be required to renovate the union, is it something the students at PSU would be able to support and even want to support? The second part of what they’re doing is conceptual design,” Gates said.

Krystine McCants, former SFC Chair, said the results of a similar survey conducted last year show a clear need for renovations to SMSU. This year’s survey results also reflect this trend: in a survey polling students about their most frequent places of study, SMSU ranked a distant third after student homes and off-campus coffee shops.

But, in addition to showing need for a renovated SMSU, the survey also revealed a major roadblock: the projected cost for such renovations.

“We asked them to figure out what would meet our needs, and how much would it cost. And they said: ‘You can build that building. Got $120 million dollars?’” said McCants. She added, “It went on the backburner, but that’s what it was supposed to do. It was aspirational: what could we do and how much would it cost?”

Once the SFC has finalized a conceptual design within a cost range students would be willing to pay, the Smith renovations will be made into a referendum for students to vote on in the next ASPSU election.

“We know we’re not looking at a rebuild or a significant renovation. But can we find a sweet spot where there’s a renovation that is enough to make the building [a] usable, excellent building without it being a $120 million dollar project?” McCants said.

According to Rani Boyle, associate campus planner of the Campus Planning Office, there are currently three potential renovation scenarios students could possibly see this election. Boyle noted that each scenario would address the deferred maintenance of the building, but each varies in student fee impact and extent of renovation.

The first renovation scenario would cost approximately $50 million. For around $40 per term, students would see fundamental improvements to the operations of the building including the repair of mechanical systems, enhancements to the accessibility of the space of the building and improved signage for navigation through the building.

The second scenario would cost approximately $65 million. For about $55 per term, students would see the fundamental improvements included in the $50 million scenario as well as improvements in dining space, meeting spaces for student groups and cultural centers and improvements to allow more natural light into the building.

The last scenario would cost approximately $100 million, would require a fee of about $80 per term and would provide an all-inclusive renovation.

Boyle remarked that other potential funding sources could include revenue from retail spaces, dining spaces and revenue from conferences held in the building. She also mentioned that any increase to student fees would have to be first voted upon by students in the form of a referendum and then approved by the President and the Board of Trustees.

Student Fee Committee

Initially, SFC Chair Alexandra Calloway-Nation explained that if the SFC were to allocate money to the Pavilion that it would come out of the SFC’s reserve budget, which does not consist of any student fee funds.

However, the newly-presented proposal given to the SFC by Wiewel has changed the outlook of where that money will come from. The draft resolution specified that while $800,000 would come from the SFC reserve balance, $700,000 would be contributed from student building fee funds.

The decision to allocate $700,000 from student fee money comes at a time when the SFC is making across the board budget cuts to programs supported by student fees. The proposed cuts effect groups ranging from student media to athletics and the Little Vikings children center to the various cultural centers on campus.

The SFC worked strategically so that, in the newly-passed proposal, Wiewel has agreed to make SMSU renovations a high priority project for the University upon the passage of a referendum.

“Even if Smith gets renovated, there will be ample need for places where students can study and hold events. So in the larger picture, the Viking Pavilion will only continue to fill that need. If there was a renovation of Smith after the Viking Pavilion was built, there would be ample space for students [during construction],” Calloway-Nation said.

Wiewel agreed to the terms of the resolution and committed to delivering a signed copy to the SFC by Dec. 10.

Students can expect to see a referendum regarding a fee raise to support SMSU renovations during the upcoming ASPSU elections.