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By Mary Fan
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 1, 1998

Committee probes Union renovation alternatives

The student committee assessing fallout from last semester's failed Memorial Student Union referendum ended a month of deliberations on renovation funding options last week with a stalemate.

"The feeling I got was the committee came down to which one is better - academic bonds or a student fee," said Mike McCoy, chairman of the presidential task force. "We weren't able to conclude because we're not experienced in academic bonding. We weren't able to say exactly what happened to the students because it is so complicated."

What did become clear, however, is if the UA's administration wants to continue pushing for a student fee, it should give students more control of the Student Union-building process and better orchestrate efforts to secure student support, said committee member Jim Killeen.

"If you're going to fund the Union through a student fee, it's got to be successfully marketed to students," he said. "We recommended that the administration not assume that students will support a fee without being involved in the process."

The task force began talking in late January and worked through the end of February. At the end of its research and deliberations, it released a funding report on the Student Union - a seven-page account with 61 pages of appendices.

The appendices detail the committee's investigation into how other universities funded their student unions and its research of revenue-raising potential from privatization and support from the state Legislature.

Hope for legislative support was quashed early on as the task force learned the difficulty of securing financial backing from the Legislature, McCoy said.

"Legislative funding is almost impossible to achieve because the Legislature is confronted with several other enormous issues affecting the entire state of Arizona," said Associated Students President Gilbert Davidson. "I don't think the Student Union is high on their list of priorities."

It soon became clear privatization could not completely do the job either, McCoy said.

"Privatization can't pay for a $60 million union all by itself," he said. "It can be an aspect, but we have to look for how to pay for it in other ways."

A subcommittee of four students spoke with administrators from other universities to learn how they funded their student unions.

"We wanted to look more at the process instead of choosing a specific funding option," Killeen said. "My view is if the process is done correctly, the funding will take care of itself."

Killeen cited the University of California-San Diego's union-building project as an ideal case.

There, students who sat on union-planning committees were selected by student government officials rather than university administrators like at the UA. Exhaustive surveys were administered to students as they went to the polls.

UCSD students passed a $84-per-year fee to fund their $20 million union on the first try.

"Students had 100 percent control of the planning and design process," Killeen said. "The administrators said this is why their referendum succeeded."

The university also has approval from the Arizona Board of Regents to issue $25 million in bonds for a new union, said Joel Valdez, vice president for business affairs.

But whether the Student Union is funded through a student fee, academic bonds or both is a moot discussion until the administration gains the regents' approval for its fast-track Union-building plan, he said.

Under the unorthodox plan, the university will hire a joint contracting team to coordinate design and construction and cut down costs, Valdez said.

Administrators will go before the board during its meeting at the UA Friday to seek approval for the plan.

If the regents approve the idea, bids for the team will go out in early fall, Valdez said. The team selected will then guarantee a price under which the Student Union can be built, and funding will then be considered, he said.

McCoy said the most important message of the report is that students cared enough to compile it and learn more about the complicated Student Union funding process.

"These people worked very hard and they all were volunteers and they all did this for free," he said. "A lot of them really saw how big and complicated and difficult an issue it is. They saw in-depth how difficult it is to decide and how complicated it is to say what's going to affect students for better or worse."

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