Our Student Union Building has failed.
In its heyday it was the central non-academic social space on campus. It brought together students from all residences, programs, and years. It had a games room, a TV lounge, an art gallery, and services used by all. The first form of the Wolfville Children’s Centre made its home in the New SUB.
The Old and New SUB, opened in 1949 and 1972 respectively, were the product of student activism. It was students who banded together and demanded a dedicated space on campus. In 1939, an editorial in The Athenaeum wrote of the possibilities of a co-educational student space. A week later the idea of a student union building was pitched.
The original Old SUB was opened in 1949, after the Board of Governors and Students’ Union approved the $40,000 plan. Harrison McCain, of McCain frozen food glory, was the chair of the building committee when it opened on November 10th, 1949. Services like an older version of the Student Resource Centre and Residence Life made it their home soon after.
The building was expanded in 1962 following an increase in postwar Acadia students. This cost approximately $100,000 funded by a referendum, with an increase from a $5 yearly fee to $10. Adjusted for inflation it would be $85.23 in 2017. This was based on a plebiscite where 529 of 711 eligible voters (74.5%) cast their ballots and voted in favour of a larger SUB. A committee was then formed to determine exactly what was needed, with their final recommendation becoming the floorplan for the expansion of the Old SUB.
Originally the Old SUB was to be torn down after the New SUB was finished, but money ran out before the entirety of the plan was realized. Funding for the project operated on “10 cent dollars”- for every 10 cents put forward by students, 90 would be put forward by the university and government. The New SUB as we know it opened in 1972, promising a new age for Acadia students.
46 years later things have changed. Our SUB no longer serves our needs. It’s too hot or too cold. Vital services like Safety and Security or Pregnancy Support are inaccessible. Few students know where our student government meets weekly. Concerts are difficult to host. We spend incredible amounts of money each year on paying for wasted heat and deferred maintenance. Our campus no longer has a spot where students from all walks of life can converge and relax away from the constant furor of academic work.
Our SUB has failed us.
It’s time to build a new one.
As the Student Board of Governors Representative and an elected member on the Students’ Representative Council, I believe that we should make the lives of our students better. That means those past and present who will make Acadia a great place long after we’ve graduated. We owe it not just to ourselves, but to our peers, to think big. We owe it to them to think of the future.
Weeks ago, I introduced a motion in the ASU Students’ Representative Council to create a SUB Renewal Committee. I’ve based the process off a similar one conducted at UBC when they transformed their old student union building into the brand new AMS Nest. We are not UBC, nor do we aspire to be, but we are dreamers. We are visionaries. We are, above all else, Acadia students.
This is a monumental task that will undoubtedly spur hundreds of questions. What do we do with this space? What works in the building? Can we pay off The Axe? What’s the future of The Ath? Axe Radio? How would we design a building? Who would design the building? Do we even want a building? What would the building be for?
Thinking about these questions is the first step. To move boldly into the future of our student union we must start thinking about our needs as students in the 21st century. The days are gone where brutalist pragmatism was aesthetically pleasing. The days of sustainability, accessibility, and equity are upon us.
This will not be cheap. Expanding, renovating, or rebuilding the SUB will costs tens of millions of dollars and take many years. This will suck, but it will be necessary. Either we invest now and reap the rewards or wait until it’s too late and pay the consequences.
Our future must have room for all of us.
Redesigning our home must be democratic. Every student must have a say. This SUB Renewal Committee would be held in the hands of students, with our elected representatives deciding how we go forward. There will be representatives from the Board of Governors, faculty, and Town Council on the committee, but only students must have a vote. We must write the future of our home together.
Reimagining our home must be sustainable. Each member of the Acadia community has a part to play in this grand exercise of collective action. By working together to explore environmentally and financially sustainable solutions we can create something great.
Rebuilding our home must be visionary. We need to create a SUB that lasts the next 100 years. We must create a building that centralizes our services, from the clinic to the print shop, and reinforces the values of our student union. Integrity, excellence, respect, fun, community spirit, and tradition have a place in determining our collective future.
Let this be a call to arms for all students. It’s time to come together and demand better. Demand better from the university and from the ASU. Each of you must put pressure on your elected representatives, like me, to start building our future. Show up to SRC meetings, send emails, make your voices heard. Each of these may seem inconsequential, but starting the process now will be invaluable.
Students have the power to make change. Together we can build a new SUB and build a new future.
I believe in Acadia students.
You should too.
Colin Mitchell is a 3rd year Politics (Honours) student from Vancouver, BC. He is also the News Editor of The Athenaeum and the ASU Student Board of Governors Representative.