U of T students to pitch in for Pan Am athletics complex

Students clapped and cheered when Mayor David Miller asked if they had watched the Olympic hockey gold medal games, as he spoke at the University of Toronto Scarborough on March 3 to promote the “I Deserve World Class” campaign.

During a referendum held March 17–19, UTSC students voted 62 per cent in favour of financing a new athletics and recreation centre that will be used in the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Expansion and developmental plans for University of Toronto Scarborough. (Courtesy utsc.utoronto.ca) (UTSC_Campus_Expansion_Map)

Miller says there’s an “incredible spirit” present in an athletic competition like the Olympics, and the UTSC will be getting an elite training facility.

“When we host our friends from the Caribbean and Latin America in 2015, it will be extraordinary,” Miller said. “And I so much want Scarborough to be at the heart of that.”

On the last day of voting, campus grounds were filled with commotion as walls were plastered with posters and people sported ‘Yes!’ pins and T-shirts in support of the new athletics centre.

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union acting president Amir Bashir says UTSC had its highest number of eligible voters partake in the student referendum, 23 per cent of them casting a ballot. The vote was overwhelming in support of the new athletics centre, with 1,454 ballots for the centre while there were only 748 against.

Someone who understands the importance of an athletic training centre is Olympic silver medalist Liz Warden.

Warden, a U of T graduate and silver medalist in swimming in the 2004 Olympics in Athens, says she grew up in Scarborough, where she didn’t have the facilities she needed to train and was forced to wake up at 4:30 a.m. to go to practices downtown.

“As a high school student, I was busy and had to find time to train,” Warden said. “It would’ve been amazing if there was a facility closer to home.”

She says she wants the state-of-the-art complex as it will provide young athletes with a chance she didn’t have.

“I was very, very excited because I knew that it would mean so much opportunity for young athletes to develop and train, and hopefully become Olympians like myself,” Warden said.

While the campaign created an atmosphere of anticipation and excitement, the controversial referendum sparked debate among students. Those who voted “no” say the money should be put toward improving existing campus facilities.

A second-year student, who asked to remain anonymous, says not all students can afford increased fees.

“Future students, specifically my cousins who will want to come to UTSC, will have to suffer the burden of paying those extra hundred dollars.”

She says although students who contribute to the levy will receive a full credit through an athletics membership card, students living out of the city won’t profit from this.

Lee, an international student from China, says he voted “yes” but notes other international students didn’t vote because they say they won’t be affected by the developments. He says they’re paying around $36,000 in tuition and residence fees for two semesters.

“It’s hard to justify paying an extra sum of money, for something that you won’t see, something you won’t be using,” Lee said.

Those students who voted “yes” think the centre will create more activities and clubs,  and improve the experiences of future international students.

Emily Kakouris, a UTSC student who works at the campus’ Athletics and Recreation Centre, says she is happy with the results.

“I’m looking forward to students being much more connected and involved with Scarborough campus [life], as well as Scarborough itself,” Kakouris said.

She says the new facility will also create more jobs for students, as the existing UTSC athletics centre is the largest area for employment on campus. Kakouris adds it’s the only one of the three U of T campuses with an athletics centre that hires only students.

Kakouris says she’ll likely return after she graduates, as alumni will have access to the facilities through an alumni membership.

The world-class athletics facility will include two Olympic-sized swimming pools, a diving tank, a 200-metre indoor running track, a multi-purpose gymnasia and teaching studios.

The 91,440-square-metre complex, due to open in 2014, will be a part of the “North Campus” expansion at Military Trail and Morningside Avenue.

Franco Vaccarino, UTSC principal, says students have been advocating for a pool at UTSC since 1976, and the centre will continue to serve the students and community after the games making this a “transformative moment.”

“It will raise the University of Toronto’s international profile, it will open up lands on the north side of Military Trail for exciting and long-term developments at [UTSC],” Vaccarino said.

He says the campus will be “a destination like never before,” while the expansion will also enhance transit, as the Scarborough-Malvern LRT line will connect to the north campus, with construction slated to start in 2014.

Construction began last fall on the Instructional Centre at Military Trail and Ellesmere Road, which will be the first building in the “Campus Core,” with plans to complete by summer 2011, according to the “UTSC Campus Vision.”

UTSC students will contribute $30 million, or 18 per cent of the $171-million project, over 25 years, and the university will pay $8 million, while the municipal, provincial and federal governments will cover the remaining costs.

Starting in September, $40 will be added to incidental fees per semester for full-time students and $8 for part-timers, increasing to $140 and $28 in 2014, with an annual inflation rate of four per cent.