When I asked my housemates about the new SUO Referendum, one was fiercely against it, one defended it, and two asked, “What the hell is that?” 

To answer their question, in simple terms, the SUO is proposing to build a new building, the Fieldhouse Recreation Facility, that would expand UBCO’s current capacity for recreational and gym space. The total cost of this will approximately be around $21 million. The SUO is holding a vote to see if the student body is willing to fund a third of it ($7 million) by paying $40 per person, every year, until the building is built, and $72 for the eight years after that. Osho Gnanasivam, the current Vice President of Finance, says,

“The referendum was triggered by a petition submitted to the President last year. The petition was signed by over 10% of the student population and thus the referendum process began. Any student group looking to petition cause for a referendum can do so if they meet the requirements in our Regulations.”

The voting opens on October 11 and ends on October 13, 2023. If the proposal passes, the fee will be levied. If it fails, the facility won’t be built. When asked if there are any alternative sources of funding, Osho answers,

“The SUO has no current way to finance a loan of that size without the collection of student fees. Additionally, recreation buildings across campuses across Canada do not fund recreation space through central funding, and neither will the Province. We are following the same model as UBC Vancouver, as well as institutions across Canada.”

Students’ reactions to the proposal have been mixed. While some students think that a meager amount of $40 per year is reasonable to get a new facility, many complain that they never use gym spaces. Some think they should not have to pay the fee if they are graduating before the facility opens. Osho says,

“The need for this facility is clear: students do not have nearly enough space on campus, in all regards. To move on a timeline that is fast and will fill the need for students on campuses requires that we all buy into the progress, growth, and betterment of our campus. The Executive team at the SUO, Directors on the Board, as well as many of the students spearheading this initiative, are 3rd and 4th year students. We all want to leave this campus better than when we first arrived, and this is a sensible investment to do so.  For example, the Commons building is arguably the main hub and study space on our campus, and it was also partially funded by students, many of whom would never be around to benefit from the space. When students come together and invest, future alumni of UBCO can be proud of the legacy they have left behind for future generations of students. For those with financial need, there is a clearly stated guideline permitting opt-outs for the fee, like all UBC additional fees.”

Many students are also disappointed that the new proposed facility does not include a swimming pool. Osho addresses the concern by saying,

“This is a common question and an answer I know will disappoint many — the possibility of having a pool on campus is just too expensive. The costs for zoning, maintenance, and construction alone would multiply the cost of the referendum fee exponentially. Additionally, there is no space, and the city of Kelowna has several additional regulations.”

Building or no building, the SUO falls short of spreading awareness about its proceedings on campus. Usually, the yearly SUO Executive elections have less than 20% of the student population voting. With the Referendum being voted on during the by-elections, one would expect even less turnout. The only place I have seen information regarding the vote is on their Instagram page, which has a following of merely half the campus population. When asked about the lack of awareness regarding the upcoming vote, Osho says,

“All students have been sent an email regarding the referendum. However, I agree that more details should be and will be given to the students before the vote. The SUO also hosts our Annual General Meeting (AGM) in November, where students can ask whatever questions they have for SUO leadership, and it is always a good opportunity to engage. More information will be coming out throughout the next two weeks.”

In conclusion, the new proposed facility is a student-led initiative. A group of students thought that the campus needed more gym space. Now, everyone gets to decide if they want to pay for it. The SUO executives are working hard to make this facility possible. However, the glaring gaps in student awareness are unmissable. A dire need for information sessions, and student engagement — that goes beyond distributing free SUO T-shirts — are needed to make processes more democratic.