‘Wildly over budget’
The Terrace expansion originally scheduled for completion in September, has been an ongoing project for the Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union (WLUSU) and with only positive updates reported to the board of directors up until Oct. 15, it came as a shock to all but WLUSU management that the renovation is $430,541.13 over budget.
Originally set to cost $1,050,000 with annual allocated funding from the student life levy (SLL) since the 2007-08 school year, the ongoing construction project to the Terrace is now expected to cost $1,480,541.13.
According to WLUSU president Kyle Walker, the extra expenditures
were given to the union on Sept. 10, though they were not presented to
the board until the Oct. 15 meeting to give management time to investigate
the project’s totals.
“It turns out it was 40 per cent over [what we budgeted] and we weren’t notified for over a month afterward,” said Chairman of the WLUSU board of directors Kyle Hocking.
“It seems like something you would bring to the board right away because [McMahon] had the bill in his hand and knew how much they were over.”
Walker was granted approval by the board for the allocation of $46,555 from the environmental service fund (ESF), which no longer collects a green fee from students, along with a line of credit up to $383,986.13, which will be taken out with the university.
“In a certain way management was holding the board hostage,” said
Hocking. “We can either stop construction and then we’ve got this big eyesore on the side of our building or you can approve us spending
an extra half a million bucks. That’s what it came down to.”
“It has to be completed but I think management went overboard,” said Oberle, who called attention to the fact that expenses over $10,000 are considered a capital expenditure and must be brought before the WLUSU board of directors by management for approval.
Echoing Oberle’s concerns about the magnitude of the funds, director Ted Brown expressed, “Somebody dropped the ball, definitely.”
“$400,000 could be going somewhere else,” he added.
Expressing his dissatisfaction with being over budget, Walker assured the board that money to fund the project would come from the businesses operating out of the Terrace such as Union Market and not from students’ pockets.
“I’m afraid that money’s going to be cut out of student services that students could benefit from,” said Oberle, acknowledging Walker’s assertion
that money would be coming from business revenue.
“It’s not really a case of the money, it’s being aware of what we’re spending and not being put in the position where we have to approve a loan,” said director Chris Walker, finding a problem in the way the issue was addressed more than the cost itself.
The unforeseen costs include a plumbing retrofit, electrical upgrades and the construction of a mechanical room. WLUSU general manager Mike McMahon explained that these additions were realized in the spring when the site was reviewed for construction.
“The university found that the plumbing system [in the Terrace] was not only vastly undersized for the mode that we’re using for it but they also questioned whether it would comply long-term with the safe operations in the food area,” explained McMahon.
Brown was not satisfied with management’s explanation that some of the additions were unforeseen. “I think it’s a bit of an oversight to not realize that we didn’t need a custodial room and an electrical room,” he said, referring to the mechanical room that will be within the new seating area.
Explaining the conditions of the SLL, McMahon said that early considerations
of expanding Union Market once the new seating area was in place would have needed independent funding, as the SLL doesn’t include improvements to business operations.
The same approach would be necessary had the current project been within budget, as the plumbing for example, is an improvement to the business operations. “As it turns out all the student life levy money was used properly and the overage that we’re left with is properly dealt with by the businesses,” said McMahon, “so ethically I am very happy with where we ended up.”
Many board members, including Hocking and current director Chris Oberle, were shocked that the over budgeting and additional projects in the existing area of the Terrace had not been brought to the board’s attention.
Considering how to prevent a similar situation in the future, Mc-Mahon said, “I look at it as an opportunity missed for student experience where we could have had a committee of the board working more directly with the contractor.”
“Some students will have a full career and never have the opportunity to get involved in a project like this,” he said.