A Student Center for the next generation

Photo courtesy of Marc Canellas

As the President of the Graduate Student Body, I am involved in many discussions of student fees. When evaluating any Georgia Tech project that involves student fees, there are four questions that must be asked: 1) Were students involved in the development of the project?; 2) Can the requestors deliver on their promises of the project?; 3) Is the cost to students appropriate?; and 4) Do the students support the project?

For the Student Center Re(in)novation, I believe the answers to the first three are a resounding yes. The cost of $85 per-semester is cheap, but the value per dollar will be more than almost any other fee students are currently paying at Tech.

The last question is up to the student body. I support the fee because I believe that the Student Center doesn’t currently serve the needs of students, and I want a Student Center that can serve the next generation of students, particularly graduate students.

1. The Student Center administration has been committed to graduate students throughout the Re(in)novation process.

At every step of the development process, graduate students have been involved: student visioning meetings in Spring 2015, presentations at the Graduate Student Open Forum in Fall 2015, presentations at the Graduate Student Senate meeting in the October to discuss the Re(in)novation and in January to discuss the upcoming vote, and the four public forums this past February.

Most importantly, those meetings with graduate students have led to substantive action by the Student Center administration. It was during the Graduate Student Open Forum in the Fall that graduate students brought up the idea of only having those who could use the new Student Center pay for it. The administration of the Student Center looked at that idea and, within a few weeks, agreed that it was acceptable. Now, if passed, the fee will only be instated once the new Student Center is complete and able to be used. This type of commitment to graduate students is what we expect from all those who request to use student fees.

2. The new Student Center will serve the graduate students.

I understand that it’s difficult to envision what a useful, valuable Student Center would be. The current Student Center has never been relevant in our graduate student careers. We go to the food court, grab our Chick-Fil-A or our Twisted Taco (1 Pulled Pork and 1 Sierra Madre, please), and we eat. So when the Student Center staff claims that they can provide a large spaces for student relaxation, better structure for food options, a place specifically for graduate students and maybe even a bar; we look at them with skepticism. It’s right to be skeptical, but that doesn’t mean the Student Center staff is wrong.

To see two examples what the Student Center can be, look across Tech Green to the Clough Undergraduate Learning Commons, or look across the connector to Tech Square. In 2003, the site of Clough was a parking lot, and the site of Tech Square was full of abandoned buildings. Now, Clough and Tech Square are the two centers of gravity for the Georgia Tech campus. Many students move between the areas that Transportation Services is developing an Express Shuttle to drive directly between the two locations. For many current students, even graduate students, it’s hard to imagine Georgia Tech without them.

The same administrations that lead those developments will lead this development

But to be honest, if you want this to be a reality, you don’t even have to trust the Student Center administration, you just have to trust yourselves. The design of the new Student Center will be dependent on student voices.

3. The cost for the size and scale of the project is reasonable.

Evaluating the requests of the students and the future needs of the building, the Student Center Re(in)novation proposes a $100M Student Center of which students will only finance half. This comes out to approximately $350 per square-foot (psf) for 287,000 square-feet that includes new, renovated and low-cost space. The cost psf is higher than typical Georgia Tech buildings because of the dining-intensive nature of the new Student Center.

However, compared to other dining-intensive buildings, the cost psf is lower. For example, the North Ave Dining cost around $500 psf and the new West Village space that is starting construction this Spring is estimated at $580 psf.

4. The final decision for the Student Center Re(in)novation will be based on your vote.

The final decision about the future of the Student Center is up to you. From March 9th through 16th, there will be a campus-wide student referendum on the Student Center Re(in)novation.

I am not asking that you support the cause out of pride as alumni someday, or some other pithy statements. Everything comes down to value. If you don’t think there is enough value in an $85 per-semester fee for a Student Center that can better serve graduate students, then vote no. However, if you could imagine spending $85 per-semester for large spaces for student relaxation, better structure for food options, a place specifically for graduate students, and maybe even a bar — you should vote yes.

Whatever your preferences are, the most important thing you can do is vote.