In the near future, Portland State students can expect to learn about the plan for major renovations on the Smith Memorial Student Union. After a student survey was conducted last year, many students indicated a need for more information to make a decision about whether or not the building should be renovated and whether it would be worth the extra student fees, according to Krystine McCants, chief of staff for the Associated Students of PSU.
To make renovation plans for SMSU clearer to students, ASPSU is going to conduct an informational campaign this winter and spring term. The campaign will be spear-headed by McCants and Jonathen Gates, University Affairs director for ASPSU, among others.
McCants said the campaign will focus on addressing student concerns raised in last year’s survey, provide a conceptual building design for students to consider and give students an idea of the cost of renovation.
One of the main concerns, Gates said, is how well-represented the various resource centers will be. In particular, the Multicultural Center and La Casa Latina have been on the waitlist for a better space for years.
“I want to make it clear that the design [that] would go into the resource centers will be deliberate,” Gates said. “This is going to be the opportunity for them, not just to find whatever space is available, but rather to have a deliberate impact on the space that would be designed for them.”
SMSU was originally comprised of four separate buildings built between 1957 and 1963. ASPSU, for instance, is located in what used to be called Library East.
“[C]ompared to other institutions with similar characteristics, our student union is not small,” McCants said. “But it’s really inefficiently used.” When the original four buildings were combined, the floors didn’t match up, creating the maze of stairwells and hallways that make up SMSU today.
Gates said possibilities include a large atrium in the east wing, allowing more natural light, and an overhaul of the basement, including replacing the bowling alley with a first-run movie theater. “[T]he images are going to be purely conceptual,” Gates said. “These are not blueprints, these are giving us an idea of what the building could be.”
In addition to the possibilities Gates outlined, there is a sizeable amount of deferred maintenance that an increased student fee could be used for instead. Ultimately, the student body will decide whether or not to fund the project.
“Every year there is money put towards capital projects, but there’s always stuff that isn’t getting fixed,” McCants said. “If we took $13 million, we could just do all the deferred maintenance and have the same building we have now.”
The informational campaign will also give ASPSU an idea of how much student support they’ll have moving forward with the renovations. “We are deciding whether ASPSU is going to run a referendum for establishing a fee to renovate the student union,” Gates said.
The Student Fee Committee is also in talks with PSU President Wim Wiewel about funding. “Some of the Smith Renovation would be funded through the SFC building fee budget,” Alexandra Calloway-Nation, Chair of SFC, said in an e-mail. “But our budget isn’t large enough to fund the entire renovation.”
“[I]f the students say, ‘Yes, we want this,’” McCants said, “then [President Wiewel] will take that on as a priority — take it to the legislature and say, ‘We’d like to generate some bonds that will be paid for by student fee, to build this building.’”
Current students are not likely to see such a fee, Gates said.
“If everything lined up perfectly, the very soonest the building could be completed would be 2020,” he said. Depending on what budget the SFC comes up with, it is possible that there might not be a fee until the completion of the new SMSU.
“[After the] referendum in the spring, it will probably be brought to legislature within the next two-year session,” McCants said. If student opinion is positive, the project would not move forward for a few years. “If not, then we’d have to wait until a future legislative session.”