Quartier Concordia

Reimagining Student Space At Concordia University

An international student stands outside of the Hall Building looking lost. He asks a stranger where Concordia is. The stranger points up at the Hall, to the EV, the MB and the GM Buildings.

The student gives the stranger a puzzled look and asks, “Yeah, but where is Concordia?”

That anecdote, as recounted by former Concordia Student Union VP Sustainability & Projects Alex Oster, speaks to a problem Concordia students face everyday. The university’s scattered downtown campus has little sense of community.

McGill’s sprawling green fields, Victorian architecture and access to Mont Royal gives students a sense of space. Concordia is a collection of office buildings.

Its people and organizations define its community—institutions that span busy streets and dirty sidewalks. They are also institutions that have been plagued by low student participation for years.

This fall, the CSU re-proposed a solution to the problem: buy a building downtown to centralize student space.

In November, the union presented students with a referendum question asking them to fund the purchase of a $43 million building through a $2.50 per credit fee levy.

The referendum ultimately failed. Thousands of students turned out to vote against it, in part because of the building’s cost, location and a perception that the project would benefit Concordia’s administration more than it would its students.

But for Oster, the project’s biggest failure was that it proposed to fix the problem of having a cold, building-centric campus by throwing another building into the mix.

“The idea of Concordia is not buildings,” said Oster. “So if we’re going to build a student centre then let’s not just build another building because the idea of Concordia is people. So let’s get these people connected with their community.

“I mean you have people living in apartment buildings on Sherbrooke Street who won’t let us have outdoor concerts because it’s too loud. You’ve got an arts museum across the street that doesn’t reflect Concordia’s fine arts department. I mean these people are physically connected to the university but they have nothing to do with this 50,000-person institution.

“Why aren’t we concentrating on shutting down traffic on these two blocks and saying ‘this is Quartier Concordia?’ The university’s urban infrastructure is not suited for this century.”

Rather than use student funds to finance the purchase of a building, Oster said that he would like to see money allocated to the university’s faculties and programs to redesign Concordia’s campus. The redesign would see students from all disciplines have a practical outlet for the skills they learn at Concordia and would see students play a central role in the reshaping of their environment.

“Why not have the arts students turn the university into a canvas,” he asked. “Why not have engineering students develop porous roofs that filter water so it can be used within the school? We have all this intellectual capital that is going to waste. Concordia students need to be intellectually stimulated, challenged, and this is the perfect opportunity to accomplish that.”

Since 2005, Concordia undergraduate students have been paying $2 per credit to fund the purchase of a student centre. By 2014, the amount collected from this fee should add up to about $10 million. While Oster speculates about the possibilities this student centre fund could offer students, the $10 million is bound by a contract between the CSU and Concordia’s administration.

The contract stipulates that money collected from the $2 fee levy has to go towards the purchase of a building that would be split between student union controlled space and administrative offices. The annual cost of operating the building is projected at $2.6 million. The contract also has a clause that would allow Concordia’s administration to impose a fee levy on students to fund the purchase of a student centre
CSU VP External & Projects Adrien Severyns, who oversees the contract, said that it would be impossible to break.

“We can modify the contract if we sit down with administration and reach a consensus but we can’t just break it,” he said.

Last week, the CSU listened to students’ suggestions about what to do with the millions of dollars in accumulated student centre fees. While a few inspired ideas came up, and while the CSU continues to encourage students to pitch ideas, the contract still restricts what student money can do for student space.

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 22, published February 8, 2011.