New Aztec Center revamp clarified

by Staff

Anthony Bronson

Note from the Editor in Chief: The following is a follow-up article for a story The Daily Aztec ran on Aug. 31 titled “Clearing the air around Modern Space.” After publication, it was brought to our attention that certain information contained within quotes was inaccurate, and a full record of the interview was not available, so the quotes could not be substantiated.

Rather than issue a confusing addendum to the article, we wrote this thorough follow-up to make the facts as clear as possible. The original article, with the contested portions noted and the inaccuracies removed, remains archived on our website.

In the 2005-2006 academic year, Associated Students moved forward with a plan to renovate and expand Aztec Center led by Chris Manigault, A.S. president at that time.

To develop an idea of how much it would cost to renovate the current Aztec Center, A.S. hired Brailsford & Dunlavey, a facility planning and program management firm, and Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates, an architectural firm to conduct a study on the feasibility of renovating  the student union.

The firms’ studies “revealed acute deficiencies in the quality and organization of the space and amenities available to the campus community,” according to the student union program statement. “The study also reported that Aztec Center had significant aesthetic, functional, operational and technical deficiencies in comparison to contemporary student unions.”

In addition to outside professional architectural opinion, A.S. also sought input from the student body.

“As part of our plan for a referendum, we did a survey of students asking them about their attitudes toward new ideas that would be in the new facility,” Dan Cornthwaite, executive director of A.S., said. “We also asked them how much they would be willing to pay in terms of a new fee.”

However, A.S. quickly found out that the fee increase passed in the 2006 referendum, based on the architectural surveys and students’ willingness to pay, could not cover the cost of the renovation.

“It was after the referendum that we hired architects to design a building based on the expansion and renovation elements within the approved $56 fee that the students said they wanted and supported,” according to the statement. “It was factors including the economic downturn, decrease in student enrollment, and increased bond interest rates that resulted in not having the funds available to proceed with the original plan of renovation and expansion.”

The university dramatically changed its forecast for what enrollment was going to be because of reduced funding, and enrollment directly affects the revenue stream for the project, Cornthwaite said.

Because of the new increased costs associated with renovating and expanding Aztec Center, A.S. was informed the cost to renovate the current student union would be nearly as much as constructing a new building.

“The difference was negligible,” Cornthwaite said. “Replacing the building versus renovating and expanding it was within a couple hundred thousand dollars of each other.”

Knowing this, last year’s executive committee moved forward with the Modern Space project with a budget of $101 million that would meet current building codes and LEED Platinum sustainability standards. The $101 million dollar budget would require a fee increase of $94 per student per semester beginning when the project is intended to be completed in 2013.

“If the students had voted ‘no,’ then the A.S. Council would have had to consider using the funding available from the original $56 fee and put it into renovation of the existing building, as it was not enough to proceed with the original plan of expansion and renovation due to the economic downturn, decrease in student enrollment, etc.,” Sean Kashanchi, executive vice president of A.S., said.

When the students voted in favor of the $94 dollar fee increase last spring to fund a completely new and sustainable student union, the total each student would be paying per semester for the project came to $150. However, advertisements for Modern Space did not mention this. The advertisements clearly stated, “Modern Space, $94 per semester,” which could have appeared misleading to students.

“The students weren’t voting on two different fee increases,” Kashanchi said. “The $56 fee was already put in place. There’s no real reason to say you’re paying this on top of this.”

Kashanchi said the Modern Space committee didn’t find a reason to make it clear that students were paying $150 total for the project because the $56 fee was already being paid by students.

“In that information campaign, we did not explicitly say $94 was in addition to the $56,” Cornthwaite said. “We didn’t mislead students.”

Cornthwaite stressed all of the information regarding fees for the project was included in the Modern Space voter pamphlet.

“The 2010 campaign was based on a new Aztec Center and a sustainable student union with the students voting on whether to increase fees in 2013 by $94 for this new green facility,” Kashanchi said. “It was not a matter of $94 extra, it was whether the students wanted a new and sustainable / green student union.”