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MacHall lease negotiations inch forward

By Susan Anderson, March 12 2015 —

After over a year of negotiations, the Students’ Union is still far from signing a new  MacHall lease agreement with the university.

The lease agreement dictates how the SU and university administration use the building. The previous 15-year lease expired Dec. 9, 2014 and was renewed for one year.

Negotiations were last pushed back in February 2014. Former SU vice-president operations and finance Eric Termuende said negotiations slowed because two of the three negotiators on administration’s side left their jobs, forcing the SU to negotiate with new people. Former SU president Raphael Jacob also cited “fundamental disagreements” between them and administration.

Current vice-president operations and finance Adam Swertz said the negotiations went well this year, but that long agreements take time. He said they’ve made the most progress on MacHall’s management and cleaning.

But in an interview conducted after he acclaimed the SU presidency, current vice-president external Levi Nilson said administration is waiting for a weaker SU executive before signing any agreement.

“I think they would love for weak executives to come in and sign a deal that isn’t good for students and then be done with it. I know [SU president] Jarett [Henry] and Adam [Swertz] have been pretty tough on them so far this year and now they’re kind of pushing it down the line,” Nilson said.

The current SU executive will hand over the negotiations to Nilson and newly-elected vice-president operations and finance Sarah Pousette, who take over May 1.

The SU generates about $18 million in revenue from MacHall every year. This revenue has kept SU fees among the lowest in Canada.

The outgoing executive team wants to sign a letter of intent with administration to cement the progress they’ve made.

“There could be a chance that we would sign a letter of intent that kind of signifies the high-level principles of which we are agreeing to, that would be a milestone in the negotiations so far,” Henry said.

Swertz said that administration is happy with how the SU takes care of the building, but that there’s a lot of deferred maintenance in MacHall and the building is showing its age.

Henry said they want to include a capital depreciation fund in the new agreement to save money for future work on MacHall.

“With each dollar we spend on the building, [we could] also put away money to keep up with future repairs,” Henry said.

Swertz said that both sides use the building, so both contribute to its long-term upkeep. They’re looking at how to fairly divide up the maintenance costs.

Swertz said administration and the SU have an effective working relationship. They collaborate across campus on programs such as recycling and locker rentals. He said it makes sense to keep that in mind over the course of the negotiations.

Neither Henry nor Swertz thought there were long-term consequences to the failure of the MacHall redevelopment levy last March, saying it doesn’t affect how the lease agreement is negotiated.

Swertz also said that an indefinite agreement would be best. He doesn’t see the SU or the university ever leaving the building, so their goal is to sign the longest agreement they can.

In the past, the quickest the two sides have re-negotiated the lease was three years. While Swertz isn’t big on timelines, he said if they could sign it in the next year they’d “be at a landmark pace.”

Nilson said he is happy with the progress Henry and Swertz have made.

“They’re leaving me in a pretty good spot,” he said, comparing  where Henry was last year.

Administration last commented on the negotiation in October in a prepared statement from vice-provost student experience Susan Barker. She said the goal is to ensure students have an “outstanding experience” in MacHall and they continue to provide “high quality facilities.”

Administration refused to provide comment when the Gauntlet requested one this week.


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