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EMU Shuffles Student Space For Sustainability Center

During its meeting on October 27th, the EMU Board approved a proposal that will accommodate a Student Sustainability Center in the EMU by undergoing minor shifts in student space. These shifts will occur in the next few months, with the permitting process beginning this week.

The approved proposal includes three main shifts: the six groups currently housed in Suite 20 will move into office-type accommodations in The Break; the Service Learning Program will move into Suite 20; and the new Student Sustainability Center will move into the space that currently houses the Service Learning Program.

The accommodations for Suite 20 groups in The Break will include individual offices with nine-foot temporary walls and locking doors.

The vision for a Student Sustainability Center existed long before this year, but increased momentum and wider student involvement have allowed the project to reach this point. Most specifically, this includes the creation of a Student Sustainability Coalition, where 15 university groups with mission statements surrounding sustainability can work together on issues that affect them.

ASUO Vice President Maneesh Arora has been instrumental in the process up to this point.

“There was a proposal written by the Climate Justice League in May that first put the idea out there in a formal proposal,” he said. “CJL [in conjunction with] the ASUO Executive and the Student Sustainability Coalition took that [proposal] and outreached to different administrators and groups to figure out who would like to be involved.”

The goal of the Sustainability Center is to create an environment where these various students and student groups can collaborate.

“The Sustainability Center is a center where all groups that are focused on environmentalism or sustainability can have an open dialogue, a place to meet with each other and figure out what each group is doing,” Arora said. “Also, it would be kind of a central place for new students who want to get involved to come and get involved and find out more about groups on campus and what’s going on.”

Additionally, the Sustainability Center will serve as an office for a Sustainability Coordinator, a position that was funded as part-time for the 2010-11 school year through the ASUO Executive budget and will fall under the purview of the Student Sustainability Coalition as a full-time pending ASUO recognition and funding for the position.

After the Climate Justice League presented their proposal, the ASUO Executive began having conversations with the EMU in order to try and find a space to house the proposed Sustainability Center. According to EMU Interim Director Wendy Polhemus, it was important that the Center be located somewhere accessible.

“When it was brought to our attention that the ASUO was hoping to find place for a Sustainability Center, we figured it was important to have a space that was kind of out there and available and not tucked away in the many nooks and crannies in the EMU,” she said.

The idea to put the Sustainability Center in the Service Learning Program space was that of Holden Leadership Center Director John Duncan. When the Service Learning Program (then the Community Internship Program) was in danger of being defunded and eliminated by the College of Education in 2006, the Holden Leadership Center offered to co-sponsor the program with the Family and Human Services Department. The group also receives $9,000 annually in incidental-fee support.

“Over the summer, [ASUO President] Amélie Rousseau and I met with John Duncan,” Arora said. “John came to us and talked about moving the Service Learning Program into the Holden Leadership Center and repurposing the Break area to becoming student programming space. That’s where the idea as it is now came from.”

The proposal also comes at a convenient time financially for the EMU. Prior to the end of last school year, local developers Lease Crutcher Lewis expressed interest in making a donation to the University.

“We decided to target student affairs when we started talking about potential projects,” Polhemus said. “The funds include just under $25,000 this year and just under $25,000 for next year, and after talking to a number of different departments, this project to accommodate the Sustainability Center became a top priority.”

A local architecture firm also donated $10,000 in architectural services for the project.

During the October 27th hearing, there were two other proposals on the table: one moving the Sustainability Center into the Break and creating collaborative student spaces there, and the other moving the Sustainability Center into Suite 20 and moving the Suite 20 groups into The Break.

Each of the three proposals included putting student offices into a portion of the area currently used by the Break while maintaining pool tables and other recreation activities.

During the EMU Board meeting, concerns were voiced about The Break’s ability to sustain itself and continue to be a worthwhile recreation destination for students. It was communicated by many Board members that having student offices in The Break would perhaps increase foot traffic in that area and bolster the long-term success of the program.

These concerns and others were voiced at an open hearing of the EMU Board several weeks prior to the board meeting at which the proposal was passed. At that time, all of the proposals on the table included taking over the entire Break area in favor of student group space.

“A number of people that came to speak were concerned about transitioning The Break to only organization space and losing the space as a recreation destination or mixed-use space,” Polhemus said. “The plan evolved over talking with people and asking, ‘What can we do?'”

Noah Dewitt, Editor-in-Chief of the Oregon Voice Magazine, also attended that meeting to voice his concerns. The Oregon Voice is one of the groups housed in Suite 20 that will be affected by the space shifts.

“We made it clear that we favored a proposal that would not displace the Suite 20 groups,” he said.

Of all the stakeholders in the process, the Suite 20 groups have had the least involvement.

“With the Suite 20 groups, the biggest failure in this plan is that we haven’t been able to outreach to them,” said Arora. “If we could go back, I wish they could have been more involved. The reality is we were on a short timeline, and the people in these groups are busy people without a lot of time.”

Dewitt had mixed reactions to both the lack of communication and the impending office shift, but he understands the need for a Sustainability Center.

“It could be a trade up, although inconvenient,” he said. “We just want to know that our office will be a quiet environment to work in and will be locked and secure. I understand why they’re creating a Sustainability Center, and I’m down with the struggle, but the EMU Board has to balance our group’s interests with every group’s interests.”

The other programs involved, however — the Service Learning Program and Holden Leadership Center in particular — seem to look upon the proposal favorably.

“The space shift will allow the HLC to have all of its programs in a contiguous space,” wrote Duncan. “It will also allow for much needed additional space for student users and staff members to conduct their work.”

Polhemus also has faith in the decision of the EMU Board to move forward with this proposal.

“I think [this proposal] showed a lot of thoughtful consideration for all those who would have been affected by repurposing of The Break,” she said. “It is not a perfect solution, but given that it is within the bigger potential remodel of the EMU, this is a solution that will help us get to that next level of renovation and accommodate the Sustainability Center by hopefully not inconveniencing any other student organizations.”

According to the University’s Assistant Vice President for Capital Projects Gregg Lobisser, the Sustainability Center will likely have a space in the new EMU.

“It has been a consistent request by students, not just the current ASUO, but ASUO’s for a while as well as a broad coalition of groups,” he said.

Although the actual design for a remodeled EMU has not been completed, Lobisser mentioned that the conceptual plan includes 15 suites for student organizations.

“That plan includes the Sustainability Center, Women’s Center, Multicultural Center and the ASUO, but there are quite a number of additional suites carved out as square footage for a constellation of programs to be determined,” he said.

Arora is excited about the future of the Sustainability Center in the new EMU.

“In the new EMU, I envision more space for the Sustainability Center, especially since we do talk about sustainability so much on campus,” he said. “I am hoping that having the Center now will show students and administrators and faculty the real benefits of having it, and will make a case for a larger, more centrally-located Center in the new EMU.”

Dewitt is unsure how moving will affect the Oregon Voice’s production schedule and daily operations.

“We have no idea on the logistics of moving,” he said. “We have not yet even officially been told that we are moving. Depending on the moving date and how long it will take, production of our first issue of winter term might be affected, as we use our office several hours per day.”

While many of the stakeholders believe the Sustainability Coalition is a victory, the Suite 20 groups are not so sure.

“Sometimes I feel that Maneesh and other ASUO Executives take on these initiatives for the sake of their resumes, but that’s not to say the Sustainability Center isn’t hella tight,” Dewitt said.

  1. Steve Toyota says:

    At least this will solve any possible issues between the campus Democrats and Campus Republicans. They each get their own locked rooms.

  2. Stephen says:

    Great story Lyzi! Noah’s comment about the ASUO Exec doing this to bolster their resumes is oh too true. And speaking of truth, the sad truth will likely be that the Sustainability Center likely will be the antithesis of what its name would suggest it would be. My bet is that students ask for it because they think it’s great in theory and then in reality don’t use it

  3. zstarmac says:

    Great article Lyzi!

    This is a really good description of the process. I even learned some pieces!

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