Letter: Vote no on the Student Union renovation to prevent tremendous fee hikes

By Opinion & Editorial Staff

From December 4 through December 7, the undergraduate student body here at the University of Massachusetts will have the opportunity to determine the future of student fees. The Student Government Association (SGA) has put forth a budget breaking plan to hike the Student Activities Fee from $131 to $181 by fiscal year 2019, and again to $231 by 2020 to pay for $50 million worth of renovations to the Student Union. This fee hike would be sustained for at least 10 years. Moreover, the University is fronting the other 50 percent of construction costs which means that students can expect other tuition and fee hikes due to the renovation of this building. These fee hikes would come at a very inconvenient time for students at UMass. With a growing number of Registered Student Organizations (RSOs) on campus, SGA has struggled to fund these groups in full. These circumstances make another fee hike seem imminent. Can UMass students truly afford more fees?

When $50 million is put into perspective, it becomes clear that the price tag of this project is excessively high. This year, the Design Building was completed at UMass. This building is similar in size to the Student Union and was built using ground-breaking engineering techniques. Unlike the proposed Student Union renovations, the Design Building was not a renovation but instead was a completely new construction. Despite these cost-intensive factors, the completed construction cost of the Design Building was $36 million, a full $14 million less than the projected renovation costs for the Student Union. If completed, the Student Union renovation project would be an egregious example of waste by the University.

SGA representatives cite increasing student space as a primary tenet of this plan, yet it is unlikely that renovations without increasing the gross square footage of the Student Union will impact the amount of student space in any meaningful way. All the while, large spaces in the Student Union such as the Commonwealth Room are unused by student organizations and are generally underutilized. Space issues associated with the Student Union are due to poor space allocation, not due to the state of the building.

There is no doubt that there are issues with the Student Union that should be addressed. The Student Union has some cosmetic damage and should be treated for asbestos. These repairs, however, would not cost anywhere close to $50 million and would serve the student body much better. SGA should return to the drawing board and separate wants from needs, then propose a financially responsible plan.

Fortunately, students have the opportunity to stop this disastrous project. If students are serious about accessibility in higher education, they should vote no on the Student Union renovations.

Matt D’Amico is a student at UMass and was a SGA Senator for over two years. He served as the chairman of the Undergraduate Experience Committee and can be reached at [email protected].