Letters to the Editor are printed in full and are unedited by the Silhouette

By: Ryan MacDonald (Vote Yes campaign team)

This is a response to an Opinion piece titled “The new referendum does not change enough”, published on March 17, 2017. The author of said piece lists the following issues with the referendum and encourages students to vote no; this piece will seek to refute them and encourage students to vote yes:

  • A compulsory 12-month Pulse membership for all students, instead of the four, eight and twelve month options offered currently
  • No opt-out option for the Pulse membership
  • A minimalistic plan about what the space in the Student Activity Building will be used for
  • An unclear transition plan for the Pulse and concerns of overcrowding
  • A long-term payment plan that would have students paying for this expansion until 2060

Firstly, it’s true that the plan features an elimination of user fees for the Pulse, resulting in a 12-month Pulse membership for all students included in their athletics fee. The cost for this will be $95 per year – in comparison, the opt-in 12-month, 8-month, and 4-month membership costs for students are currently $192, $144, and $72, respectively. For any student who has purchased a 12-month or 8-month membership, this plan will significantly lower costs while dramatically increasing the size of the current facility.

It’s also true that there is no opt-out for this fee. This isn’t unique within the University – that’s because, as a large number of students, we act as a buying group. It’s the same concept as why it’s cheaper in the long run to buy in bulk than it is in small quantities. For instance, the MSU negotiates with the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) to provide a 12-month bus pass to students at a reduced rate. While not all students are on-campus throughout the entire year, and some students may drive, walk, or bike to school, the reason we’re able to negotiate the pass at such a reduced rate is because students can’t opt-out. As well, the added benefit to providing all students with a bus pass is that it encourages them to explore the city, build community partnerships, and take sustainable transportation. In the same vein, allowing all students to access the Pulse encourages them to work out and live a healthy active life.

I would not call the plan for the Student Activity Building minimalistic – in fact, there are specific commitments and priorities for the space that have already been identified. One is prayer space: the Muslim Student Association on campus has over 2,000 members, and other faith-based groups have joined them in asking for prayer space on campus for years. As well, this time around, the University has committed to a grocery store in the building, which the MSU has the first right of refusal to operate. With students in mind, the grocery store will be designed to provide low-cost, local products that meet various dietary needs: something that has been on MSU presidential platforms for years, and consistently demonstrated as a priority. In terms of the rest of the space, I believe the flexibility is a strength. As this space will be autonomous to students, it’s important that students are in control of what goes in it. There will be a wide consultation process and conversation with students to determine what exactly will be in the space alongside the grocery store and prayer space, but students can rest assured it will include event space, study space, and lounge space, which are consistently listed as priorities for campus.The argument that you should have the plan solidified with respect to exactly what spaces will look like prior to construction, is not taking into consideration the necessity that spaces like this need to be responsive to student need.

I am also happy to clear up the transition plan for the Pulse expansion which was alluded to as a concern for many students. The plan has always been that the construction of the Pulse expansion is due to be completed in the fall of 2019, at which time, it will be more than double the size. In the interim, measures will be put in place to accommodate for the increased volume of users. Of course, there will be growing pains – but without them, we’ll continue to experience the daily overcrowding that takes place at the Pulse indefinitely. These measures will include extending hours by 90 minutes, converting Smith Gym or East Auxiliary Gym into a temporary Pulse to operate alongside the current Pulse, and opening a women’s only fitness space on the track level. As well, the construction schedule is focused on the summer of 2018 to impact as few students as possible.

Finally, the payment plan is long-term. This is due to the nature of student life: students are not long-term inhabitants of campus, but rather, short-term occupants. As I’ve said before, students are renters, not buyers. If the mortgage was say, twenty years – yes, it would be a shorter-term payment plan, but the cost to each individual student within those twenty years would be much greater. Ultimately, the best plan is one that can provide students with a reasonable cost for their value. While students as a whole are paying longer, individual students will simply pay during their time on campus while they are actually able to use the building.

Ultimately, this referendum is truly about benefitting as many students as possible: it’s by students, for students. My genuine hope is that each and every student looks at what this referendum has to offer and sees the value in it for themselves. While it might not be everything to everyone, my hope is that you will be able to find your value in something that really matters to you. Whether that be a reduced Pulse membership, an affordable grocer on campus, an accessible prayer space with appropriate amenities, lower intramural and yoga prices, or just more space to study and relax on campus, the space expansion is designed with everyone in mind. With the University’s $10M investment into the capital costs of this project, lessening the main deterrent – cost to students by $28.80 – I encourage students to give this project another chance. This is the single largest up front investment into student life the University has ever made and they are committing to fundraising even more. While I would love to believe that if students vote no, more money will be on the table, this is simply not the case. If you find value in supporting the students of tomorrow, vote yes. If you find value in creating a more supportive campus for the students at McMaster today, vote yes. If you can find value in this project for yourself, vote yes.

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