Expansion and debt at WLU

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When local landowners accepted a $58.9 million offer from Laurier last Thursday, the university’s ownership of twelve off-campus apartment buildings (ten on Ezra, two on Bricker and Hickory) became official. Although vice-president of finance Jim Butler says Laurier will need to take out a loan to make the purchase, he is confident that the revenue created by the project will pay off the debt. This acquisition will foster a broader partnership between Laurier and the private sector; particularly with the property management group Campus Living Centres assuming temporary management responsibilities and powers. But will this be able to resolve the capital debt that the university has accumulated, which is primarily accredited to costs of student residences?

David McMurray, vice president of student affairs, has pointed out that the university can save money by purchasing buildings that already exist rather than constructing their own. The university is regarded by many, including Melissa Durrell (city councillor for Ezra and Bricker), as an “important economic engine” for the city of Waterloo. Regardless of the economic potential of WLU, the university needs to make a more concerted effort to keep its aspirations in check. With expansions planned for a potential Milton campus and its velodrome, Laurier is running the risk of spreading itself out too thin.

Also, all of this expansion is still within the context of recent tensions between faculty and administration over its spending habits and rising operating costs. Negotiations that drew on these tensions have been formally resolved, but the root causes still exist and the future of the WLU budget must not be allowed to evade criticism. Many students must come to terms with the reality that they are, once again, on campus and that their homes are, to a certain extent, subject to the university’s interests. These expansion projects represent a significant change to Laurier’s structure, both financially and physically. What would happen if the expansions failed and Laurier could not pay off its debt? Would the university not be inclined to do whatever it can to balance its books?
Students and faculty should be aware of the risks associated with these changes and the overall effect that they may have on their lives.

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