Union expansion plan presented as student concerns grow

Cesar Alexander

The Sacramento State Union WELL Inc. Committee will present its final decision on the University Union expansion project and subsequent tuition increase Wednesday to its Board of Directors and President Alexander Gonzalez.

As student enrollment has increased, the use of the Union and the WELL has increased to a point that space has become limited. Entertainment possibilities have also been turned down, resulting in a loss of potential revenue.

But the group, Sac State Students for Quality Education is concerned students are not sufficiently aware of the potential expansion and fee increase.

They put together a petition proposing a campuswide referendum in which all students would have the ability to express their opinions.

There have been 117 supporters of the petition, which was addressed to Gonzalez, the Union WELL Inc. Committee, WELL Executive Director Leslie Davis and Associated Students Inc. President Nielsen Gabriel.

Each of the individuals is notified via email when there is a signature.

In 2004, students passed a referendum that mandated a Recreational Events and Wellness Center. The WELL opened in 2010 without an event center, which was left out due to lack of funding.

While student fees were scheduled to increase through the referendum, it was delayed because of state budget cuts, which had already drastically increased tuition.

Throughout September, the Union WELL Inc. Committee held informational open forums as part of an alternative consultation process. They met with students face-to-face on the matter of expanding the Union and WELL, as well as creating an event center.

If their findings indicate a majority of the students want the expansion to happen, there will be a $250 fee increase added to the University Union tuition fee and will take effect spring 2014.

Davis said now is a better time for the expansion because the economic climate is improving, along with enrollment numbers.

She said the economic environment around the country in terms of construction has also been improving.

Gabriel said he has personally spoken with students with respect to the expansion, as he has been asked to offer a recommendation on whether it should go through or not.

“At the end of the day, it’s between the [Union WELL Inc.] Board, student feedback opinion, the president and then the (Board of Directors),” Gabriel said. “Half the students I’ve talked to do want the project to go through; they do think it’s a good investment. And then on the other hand, another half say they do not like it.”

Gabriel said initial surveys indicated approximately 48 percent were in favor of the project, while 52 percent were not.

There are still concerns that not enough students were made aware of the open forums.

Graduate history student Trevor Garcia-Neeley, 24, attended three of the seven open forums held at Round Table and the Multi-Cultural Center.

“They said they were hoping to reach 1,500 students, but every one of them I went to, there were only about 15 or 20 students,” Garcia-Neeley said. “I feel like the alternative consultation process for the open forums was inadequate. It didn’t reach enough students.”

He also said he is not against the actual expansion.

“I believe Sac State could definitely benefit from an event center and from expanding the Union and expanding the WELL,” Garcia-Neeley said. “I just feel like we should get the students to decide that.”

Another component of the committee’s alternative consultation process was a survey given to random students.

The survey consisted of questions regarding student opinions of the services provided by the Union, student usage of the WELL and if students supported the expansion.

Davis said they have diligently been trying to rule out duplicate survey questionnaire completions, which will be presented to Gonzalez and the Board.

She said they have verified some of the people who have signed the petition are not actually students.

Environmental studies major, Faten Tayeh, 23, was first informed about the expansion through a survey.

“When I filled out the survey I answered that I wasn’t really supporting it because I feel like a lot of money has gone into the WELL anyway,” Tayeh said. “If money should be going to any building in Sac State it should be Douglass (Hall), or other older buildings that have awful insulation or horrible [air conditioning].”

Caleb Fountain, the Union WELL Inc. Chair, said he wants students to know the money for the campus generally comes from two different pots, which is spent in two different ways.

“The academics, the professors, the classes, and all that gets funded by the state through general state funds,” Fountain said. “Student fees don’t go directly to that. There’s no way of getting that money to be used for academics or programs to increase classes or anything like that, and I think that’s kind of blurry in people’s eyes.”

Although academic funding concerns are apparent, Davis wants students to know that it is a separate issue which they are aware of.

“The campus is working hard to try to increase funding for those areas,” Davis said.

Davis said they have spoken to a little over 1,200 students throughout the alternative consultation process.

“We get to hear the students’ input, that’s what we want, but at the same I hope they’re aware of all the aspects of this project,” Fountain said. “Being aware of what the fees are being raised for and hopefully they’re making a decision that way, and if that’s the general consensus that we get for Wednesday I don’t think we have a choice of continuing with it.”

For more information about the expansion, visit unionwellinc.org/expansion

To view the petition, visit change.org/petitions/demand-a-campus-wide-referendum-for-the-proposed-spring-2014-student-fee-increase-caused-by-union-well-expansion-project