WPIRG evicted from SLC office space

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Last week, WPIRG announced the termination of the lease on their SLC office space, a decision that was made at the end of April by the 2013-2014 Feds Board of Directors (BOD).


The vote took place at a special confidential board meeting in April, at the end of that board’s term.          


At the start of the spring term, WPIRG appealed to the new BOD to overturn the decision. The board then decided that the matter fell under vice-president, operations and finance (VPOF) Ben Balfour.


Balfour eventually decided to uphold the previous board’s decision.


“The decision that I made was based on organization needs that we identified,” Balfour said.


The space in question, SLC 3104, will be used either to house the Feds video team (six students) and Feds federation orientation committee, or the International Canadian Student Network, which was launched earlier this term.


“We have internal groups that are really struggling for space and since they’re a part of Feds, we have to put them before external tenants,” Balfour said.


“This decision on the part of Feds has been met with significant disappointment from many of our volunteers and supporters and members,” said Kalin Stacey, WPIRG’s co-ordinator of programming and volunteer support.


WPIRG, which has been in the SLC for 18 years, was moved in Spring 2013 to the smaller office that they have occupied for the last year.


Their original office, SLC 2139, sat empty for several months. According to Balfour, it will now be turned into a clubs resource room as per the motion passed at Feds’ March general meeting.


“It was challenging, but it was workable,” Stacey said, referring to the smaller space.


WPIRG paid monthly rent to occupy office space in the SLC, based on the square footage of their space. Their original office cost them approximately $600 per month, the smaller one cost only $200 per month.


The organization has found a new temporary home in an office in uptown Waterloo, but Stacey said that will mainly be to house the three WPIRG staff members. The group is still looking for a campus location to hold their office hours for members and potential volunteers.


“Our office isn’t just a place to work,” Stacey said. “We want it to be a place where students can come to have conversations with each other and staff, and study.”


The community aspect of having an office on campus is WPIRG’s justification for wanting to remain in the SLC.


“Often, students have just hung out ... and learned a lot just by being in that space, and there has been a real sense of community around that one little room that we’re not enthusiastic to lose,” Stacey said.


According to Stacey, in the fall and winter terms, WPIRG has around 10 working groups and anywhere from 30 to 100 volunteers; some are community members but many of them are UW students.


Feds is currently assessing the information gathered during the SLC space audit, which was spearheaded by former VPOF Natasha Pozega in fall 2013.


“There’s so much research still to be done about space,” said Jacqueline Martinz, Feds’ communications co-ordinator. “There’s so much we still don’t know and we’re already pressed for space.”


Balfour said the current Feds executives have no plans to revisit the student building project, proposed by 2012 Feds president Andrew Noble. He also said it is too early in the space audit project to determine if renovations will be done to the SLC. Feds gained managing control of the SLC in February 2013.


“For us, a major priority is being accessible to students,” Stacey said in regards to why WPIRG should be in the SLC. He said that the SLC is the only faculty-neutral student space on campus and therefore the only place for WPIRG, which is autonomous from Feds, faculties, and the UW administration.


The previous Feds BOD chair, Luke McIntosh, was unable to comment on the lease termination decision as it was made in a confidential session.


“It was ultimately Ben’s decision. Whatever decision they made, it doesn’t really matter [because] it all came down to what he decided,” Martinz said.


Balfour said he was unable to answer whether or not he would have terminated the lease if the previous board had not made the decision first.


Stacey said the most challenging part of moving and then losing their office space has been the unclear communication from Feds about the rationale behind the moves.


“It often feels like because we’re an external organization, Feds doesn’t see us as part of the student community in the same way it would its own services,” Stacey said. “It’s been a really challenging relationship.”


“Our focus is to use the space that we have efficiently,” Balfour said. “We really do want to maintain the relationship with WPIRG.”


Feds had over 6,000 students respond to their student space survey. Martinz said Feds is still looking for student feedback on how they should use the SLC space.


WPIRG’s lease ends July 31.
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