It’s been a long time coming, but plans are finally under way for a dedicated student centre on the St. George campus. In late February, U of T’s Governing Council gave the project a green light, and, if all goes as planned, a new Student Commons at 230 College Street will be ready for occupancy in September 2017 – with much-needed space for students to relax, rehearse, take advantage of student services and meet like-minded peers.
University can often be stressful for students, particularly for those who are away from friends and family for the first time, so opportunities for becoming part of new communities are essential, says Tina Saban, a student leader at Trinity College this past year. “We frequently hear students who don’t live in residence, in particular, say they feel surrounded by people but alone.”
With few places to congregate, students often leave campus once their classes are done. “We need places that can foster student experience outside the classroom, foster interaction among diverse groups of students, provide a meeting place for students as well as lots of opportunities for social engagement,” says Jill Matus, vice-provost, students.
The Student Commons will take over the John Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design’s former space when the faculty moves to its new home at 1 Spadina Crescent. It is envisioned that the fully accessible, five-storey building will include multi-faith spaces, rehearsal areas, meeting rooms and lounges, student-run food services and a bike repair shop. Student services will provide everything from transit tickets to dental plan information. A food and clothing bank, now open only once a week, will be accessible at least five days a week to meet the high demand for both fresh and nonperishable food. (A rooftop garden will provide some of that fresh food.) The Student Commons will also increase the space on the St. George campus available to clubs.
“It will make a very big difference to students,” says Saban. “There’s always going to be something to do.”
Plans for the new student centre have been underway for almost a decade. In 2007, members of the U of T Students’ Union voted in favour of a levy – now $9.02 per student per session– to build the Commons. When the building actually opens, the fee will rise to an estimated $20.75, to cover both capital and operating costs. A management committee, made up almost entirely of students from the St. George campus, will be responsible for the operation of the Commons and, among other duties, determine how space in the building is allocated. Once the architect and design team have been selected, construction and renovation will begin, likely next summer.
Ben Coleman, the recently elected University of Toronto Students’ Union president, is excited about what lies ahead. “Students who can’t find somewhere to relax and hang out with friends will be able to hang out at a space where every last detail, down to the furniture, is decided by them. Clubs who would have had to compete with other groups to book space will have bookable space that is truly their own. Hopefully, this means that students a couple of years from now will be more relaxed, have more friends and do better in their studies.”