The space race

Student Fee Committee Chair Tracy Earll has learned that when it comes to student autonomy, you get what you pay for.

"If we fund things ourselves," she said, "we’re more likely to be able to hang on to them and use them as we want to."

Earll is referring to the space in the Smith Memorial Student Union newly allocated to student control this year. Although no money changed hands, Earll said the deal was contingent on proving that students financially supported the building – through incidental fees and building fees – that they controlled.

After years of lobbying the university, students have gained a larger percentage of floor space in the student union building. The University Space Committee ceded almost 3,000 square feet in Library East and the Telecommunications offices after comparing the percentages of student and university support for Smith Memorial Student Union last summer.

Student leaders call the increased control a victory for student groups because it gives space to groups cramped in small and out-of-the-way offices. Some groups are getting space on campus for the first time. With an office comes a host of benefits, including the possibility for an increased campus presence, funding and equipment.

However, spaces given to student control must be remodeled at cost to students, even though students were originally offered offices that did not require renovation.

The central area in the third floor mezzanine used to be occupied by CAPS, which moved to the University Center Building Fall Term 2003. Today, the Student Building Fee Committee estimates that after seismic upgrades put reinforcements in the middle of the small, irregularly shaped rooms, the abandoned space needs just under $200,000 worth of renovations.

The University Space Committee offered the unfinished central area of the Library East’s third floor as well as finished window offices on the east wall.

"We wanted the perimeter offices, because they were intact, but we knew we were more likely to get the center space because they don’t have the money to renovate it and we can get it," Earll said. "Nobody at the university level has the money to renovate. They could probably scrimp and save and find the money somewhere if they had to, but we had the student building fees."

When Telecom, which adjoins the hive of student group offices in the second floor mezzanine, decided to move to Shattuck Hall, the University Space Committee asked students to trade the finished third floor offices for the second floor area.

"When Telecom space became available, they called us and asked if we wanted to switch out some of the space [on the third floor,]" Earll said. "My response was, ‘give it to us in addition.’ They didn’t like that much."

The Telecom offices have the advantage of location, said Smith Advisory Board member Nicole Browning.

"We would like for the student groups to be in the same area, so they can collaborate and co-sponsor events," Browning said. "That hugely facilitates the process."

However, the trade-off is that student fees must be used to remodel the space.

That money has already been allocated, Browning said.

Earll noted that if the university uses the same logic that turned the space over to students last summer, footing the bill for student space may ultimately work to students’ advantage.

Late last spring, the Office of Finance and Administration compared student and university investment in Smith, calculating that students had contributed 44.61 percent of funds over the building’s history while owning around 43 percent.

"It was pretty close, but there was enough of a discrepancy," Earll said. "It finally gave us a point where we could say we made a bigger contribution to the building."

Before seeing the figures, Earll said, asking the administration for more student-controlled space was a tough sell.

"What they’ve been telling us for years is, ‘You want space? OK, buy it from us,’" she said.

Earll estimates that at current funding levels, students will pay $1.5 million into Smith, carrying more and more of the weight.

"If things go the way they have for the next couple of years, students will continue to put in major amounts of funding in this building. The proportion will continue to shift in the students’ favor."

The University Space Committee will review levels of student investment and control again when the new recreation center opens, Earll said.

Finance and Administration offices in the Extended Studies Building and the presidential offices in Cramer Hall may move to a floor of the building to be constructed at the current PCAT site. Once the Cramer and Extended Studies spaces are free, non-student groups in Smith could take those offices, freeing space in Smith for student use.

The recreation center is slated to open fall 2007.