Resistance within ASPSU to support Smith Renovation

The proposed renovation of Smith Memorial Student Union presented to the Associated Students of Portland State University senate on April 1 was met with opposition.

Director of Campus Planning and Design Jason Franklin presented the proposal, which included a survey set to go out on May 6 intending to gauge student interest in the renovation of SMSU, putting forth the option to either completely renovate the building or to reject any renovations. Franklin’s presentation of the proposed new SMSU included a fifth floor, removal of all mezzanine floors and a greater focus on wayfinding and safety.

The proposed renovation would cost students an additional $78 per term for at least the next 20 years.

Many senators felt that the project had not adequately considered student voices or student financial strains thus far.

“If it’s going to make up 23% of the student fee, I want to know if even close to 23% of students actively utilize Smith, because this is mostly a commuter campus and not a lot of students have time to spend here,” said Legislative Affairs Director Camilo Abreu A.

ASPSU Operations Director Hakan Kutgun said it was important that if students are going to be paying so much for a new building, they should be the primary decision-making body for SMSU.

“[Students] do not even choose which food vendor we can get our food from—with our own student fees within this building that was built with student fees,” Katgun said.

Abreu A. and other senators also took issue with how the project was being promoted to students, citing a recent InsidePSU article. Abreu A. said the “loaded language” used in the article might make students feel the project should happen, in particular the way Smith is described as an “aging building” and the way the project is described as an effort to “make students feel safer.”

“It’s really propagandistic in that way,” Abreu A. said.

There were also some senators who said the project was important.

“It is an old, aging building with a lot of deferred maintenance that needs to be rebuilt,” said Student Fee Committee member Tristin Crum. “I’d love to see a student union where students want to spend time, because that’s not this building.”

Crum described issues with accessibility many students face within the building, saying students with disabilities often have difficulty navigating the building efficiently and accessing mezzanine floors.

The results of the survey will be presented to ASPSU in June, at which time the senate will vote on whether to push the project forward or not. If the project is pushed forward, the proposal will be sent to PSU President Rahmat Shoureshi and the Board of Trustees during the 2019–20 academic year.

After requesting funds from the state legislature during the 2021 legislative session, construction wouldn’t start until 2022 or 2023. Franklin predicted the new Smith would be completed by 2025.