Students criticize space allocation process

As students file back onto campus this week, construction workers are scrambling to create more space for student groups and finish renovations to the Smith Memorial Student Union.

While the offices are nearly complete and a tentative start for the move-in process is set for Oct. 3, many student groups say they are confused about move-in dates and frustrated by a lack of communication with the Space Allocation Committee. 

New offices will be located in the old Telecommunications area on the first-floor mezzanine and in a utility room on the third-floor mezzanine.

Several students, including ASPSU President Erin Devaney, remain critical of the process, saying that student groups were required to reapply for their space and were not included in committee decisions.

“Student groups should have been part of the planning committee,” Devaney said. “There were decisions made that were pretty distant from student groups.”

Devaney also noted that several pieces of construction were not done according to the original plan and cited concerns that student groups have been left out of the loop. OSPIRG organizer Meredith Small agrees. Currently OSPIRG and Students For Unity share Room M103 overlooking the information desk on the first-floor mezzanine, but both groups lost appeals last April to keep their space and will be moving into offices in the new Telecom area.

“We have no knowledge of when we’re moving,” Small said. “My understanding was we were supposed to be moved out by now.”

While some groups have simply outgrown their current space, other groups are reluctant to leave their current offices.

“Students come back to you because they know your space,” said Mayela Herrera, a member of Las Mujeres. “They don’t know you by name but maybe they know your space. You lose recruitment basically.”

To address student concerns over space allocation, Devaney intends to hold an “accountability session” during the second week of school, just as the first groups should be moving into their new offices. The session is intended to let student groups air their concerns over the space allocation process.

“It’s really important that we hear from student groups,” Devaney said. “They should have been represented from the start.”

Space Allocation Committee chair Lindsey Craven hopes to use a four phase plan to get student groups moved in to their new homes by the end of the month. However, some groups are getting left out in the cold, despite the eight new offices and utility room that will be gained from the project.

“We had a pretty specific breakdown of qualifications,” Craven said. “We gave priority to those [groups] that serve the most students and those with SFC funding.”

Groups such as the Progressive Student Union, the Environmental Club and the Conflict Resolution Resource Center were not allocated space during last year’s space application process. However, several groups that currently do not have space will be offered space in a new “utility” room on the third-floor mezzanine. The League of Women Voters, Students United for Nonviolence, the Vietnamese Student Association and the Pacific Islander Club will have the opportunity to share a large room next to Student Legal Services. Cubicle walls will be installed for privacy.

“It’s been great to see so many student groups have their needs accommodated,” Eckman said.

The new offices are funded by student building fee money and are part of a master plan to renovate the Smith building drafted in 1999. Since that year state money has been allocated for Smith Union renovations biennially and has funded projects such as the redesigned Viking Bowl and video arcade in the Smith basement. The renovations called for in the 1999 plan are almost finished, according to John Eckman, associate director of Auxiliary Services.

“We have one more small portion of money coming,” Eckman said. “We’re waiting to find out where we are with the rest of the student union projects.”

The $200,000 that is paying for the current student group space renovations is all but gone, leaving several projects such as upgrading Room 047 in the Smith basement and adding four more offices in Room M113 on the first-floor mezzanine on hold indefinitely. Room 047 will house the Outdoor Program and Campus Recreation despite being incomplete.

PSU has requested more funds for “emerging needs” that would allow the university to complete the additional space, though that request may not be answered for several months.