Alongside candidates who will be vying for your vote come election days on March 4 and 5, this year a Students’ Union referendum will be seeking your ultimate approval.
The Sustainability and Capital Fund referendum, represented by Akanksha Bhatnagar — current Students’ Union president — is asking students if they support paying $25 a semester to help address deferred maintenance and sustainability projects within the Students’ Union Building.
Follow the link to watch the referendum pitch: Sustainability and Capital Fund.
The following interview has been condensed and simplified for clarity.
What is this referendum trying to accomplish?
Akanksha Bhatnagar: It’s looking to make our building more environmentally sustainable by making our building carbon-neutral by installing solar panels, by looking at creating a green fund for student-led sustainability projects, and expanding our zero-waste initiative. It’s also looking at making our building more socially sustainable, so exploring physical accessibility needs on the main floor and in our pretty hard-to-navigate cafeteria. It’s also looking at making our building more economically sustainable by investing in deferred maintenance, which all has to go through the lens of environmental sustainability, such as looking at looking at our vendors, solving plumbing issues potentially, and looking at generating spaces that really respond to the needs of students.
The climate around us is changing really fast, and either we put forward some solutions or continue to be complacent in the issue. I think this is a principled solution that will make students at the U of A national leaders in creating a more sustainable environment through the power which is our building.
For those who don’t know, why is the Students’ Union concerned about deferred maintenance?
Bhatnagar: So deferred maintenance is one of those things where if you buy something, it depreciates in value and things start to break down. We have about 30-50 thousand people going in and out of our building at any given day, and so the longer we wait to solve this deferred maintenance issue, our building’s structure is just going to fall apart. Things like our bathrooms won’t be working, things like flooring might come apart, our plumbing might not work. So if this building is owned by the students, which it is, investing in it is really important because you want to make sure that it continues to drive revenue. This building makes about $3 million for the Students’ Union, which is how we’re able to keep our student fee pretty low in comparison to other schools across the country. But we just need to ensure that if we’re going to protect any assets, the Students’ Union Building must be one of those buildings we protect.
How much will students be paying if this referendum passes and how was that cost determined?
Bhatnagar: The cost is $25 per term, starting in Fall 2020, and will be charged in the fall semester, winter semester, and in the intersession. The fee was determined by doing preliminary costings on projects such as solar panel installation in SUB, renovating our food court, renovating the main floor space, and potentially renovating the theatre space. We also really really pushed the dollar figure to be inclusive of making sure that everything is done through a lens of environmental sustainability, ensuring that when we’re creating these construction projects that they’re being done in a way that’s carbon-neutral, and ensuring that whenever we’re doing investments in one area, that we’re offsetting those costs in another space. We’re looking at about $25 just because we wanted to add that sort of environmental lens, but student fees across the world look anywhere from $500 at the University of Miami to about $25 or less than that at schools such as Waterloo.
Why should students care about this fee?
Bhatnagar: That’s a good question. Even if you’ve been a student for a year or you’re about to graduate, it is so important for us to genuinely make a change regarding one of the biggest things that we’re facing today: climate change. We talk about it all the time; there’s people putting forward solutions and this is one of the most principled solutions that I’ve seen in the entire world regarding a student organization really trying to make an impact. We’ve been called upon by the Paris Climate Agreement to make our buildings more environmentally sustainable and carbon-neutral, and this sort of principled approach allows us to make real investments in having an impact on climate change instead of sort of just screaming about it and not necessarily providing a solution. I know that there’s students who are graduating this year and might not be able to reap the intense benefits of this fee, but I know that they in voting yes, they’ll be able to say they really made a real impact on climate change, and say that at U of A, the Students’ Union was taking those real steps. So hopefully in the future we can see our building as a flagship building not only on campus but for the world to follow.