University students overwhelmingly back $73-million athletic complex expansion

Thursday, February 2, 2017

The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell & Chris Thompson [with photos and video]

With student support for the $73-million expansion of the St. Denis Centre finally secured, the University of Windsor plans to move quickly on “the most impactful project on student experience” in the school’s history.

A total of 3,901 students voted in the online referendum on the expansion, with 2,510, or 64 per cent, voting in favour. The results were announced at the CAW Student Centre Thursday night to a gathered crowd of about 100 who responded with loud cheers.

“We hope to have the signatures of the three student presidents on an agreement with the president’s office in the next week or so,” said Michael Khan, dean of human kinetics.  

“This is a priority for the university. We want to get moving on this as quickly as possible.”

Khan said the project will take three to four years to complete.

Though the athletic complex isn’t the school’s most expensive project — the engineering building cost $120 million — Khan said this building we’ll be transformative for students and the university.

Currently 8,000 students use the St. Denis Centre annually, but university officials expect that number to double once the expansion is completed.

“It’s not just a recreational complex, there’s a social aspect to it,” Khan said. “Virtually every student will use the complex.”

He said the next phase of the project is to have the final architectural drawings created.

The project involves two architectural firms — Toronto-based CS&P Architects Inc., and Vancouver-based HCMA Architecture and Design. The two firms were involved in the design of the Windsor International Aquatic and Training Centre.

“It’ll probably take a couple months for the final drawings to be completed,” Khan said. “We don’t know what the costing changes might be at this point. We may have to tweak the plans a little.

“However, the cost of the project has to remain within the terms of the referendum. The students’ costs are fixed.”

Students will cover $55 million of the capital costs. Those costs will be paid through the ancillary fee, which will be charged to students when the new building opens.

The fee, which will be paid for 30 years, starts at $125 annually and rises over seven years to $175 where it’ll be capped.

The university will contribute $18 million to capital costs and cover all the operating expenses for the 40-year lifetime of the building. Those expenses are expected to be over $1 million annually.

However, Khan remains optimistic that no changes to the plans will be necessary. The university built in contingency funds to cover changes in both the architectural and construction costs.

Before any shovel goes into the ground, the university’s board of governors also has to give its final approval.

In the meantime, the university will launch a fundraising campaign to support the project. No target goal has been set yet.

Khan joked his first action in the wake of the successful Yes campaign is to call prominent alumnus Richard Peddie. The retired CEO of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has promised to donate $150,000 to the project.

“He’s been a great help and we’re happy to make him $150,000 poorer,” Khan said.

In addition, Kahn confirmed the university will attempt to sell naming rights to different parts of the building.

“We’ve seen universities get a mix of corporate and private interest for naming rights,” Khan said. “Many schools are getting into the $20-million range for naming rights.”


Student Mohammad Akbar, who was at the voting results announcement, said he is against the proposal and anticipates a number of students appealing the referendum results for a number of reasons.

“We saw a lot of issues with this campaign and one of the reasons for pushing against this was the higher cost for people who are already suffering,” said Akbar.

“Forty per cent of students are currently using food banks, can’t afford their tuition fees, can’t afford their rent, so there’s a lot of students that are going to be affected by this in a really deep way.”

Akbar said the whole referendum process saw a number of procedural irregularities, diversions from normal policy and an unusually short campaign period.

“The university really wanted this to happen and they had their way,” said Akbar.

“There certainly will be attempts to ensure fairness, transparency and democracy within the University of Windsor.”

Second-year criminology and political science student Nicholas Reid said he fully supported the new centre even though he won’t be around campus to enjoy it.

“We have a very diverse campus and some of the amenities that were offered provided greater accessibility to students than we already have,” said Reid.

“As well we’re building certain things and adding more women’s programming and also building a cricket pitch. So it’s things that the students actually need and actually desire.”

Reid said the expanded centre will put Windsor on par if not ahead of other universities in the province.

“Unfortunately, I will not be here to be able to see the completion of this magnificent building but I’m very proud to say that I had the opportunity to make a positive impact on the future students and give them a facility that is state-of-the-art and can compete with other institutions across Ontario,” said Reid.

“At the end of the day it’s all about students’ accessibility and students’ mental and physical health at this facility.”