Additional research: Harry Tattersall Smith
Sub-editors: Alan Sharkey & Sean Anderson
Sources close to the Glasgow University Union Board of Management have revealed plans which would see the GUU Extension revert back to ownership of the University. The University intends to use the reclaimed Extension to expand the Sport & Recreation services currently offered in the Stevenson Building.
The Extension is home to a number of the GUU’s most popular facilities, including the bars Playing Fields, Deep Six and its main venue The Hive – one of the campus’ most popular venues and home to club night Thursday Night Hive.
The effects on the GUU’s business model is likely to be drastic with estimations based upon the GUU’s financial statements for the financial year 09/10 putting the contribution of the Extensions’s bar sales as three-quarters of the Union’s £1.3 million turnover for last year. The University will offer the Union remuneration to the effect of £250,000 per year but failed to address the loss of the Union’s main social space.
It is understood that the reasoning behind this decision lies in the University’s relationship with Glasgow Life, the branch of Glasgow City Council responsible for overseeing the Council’s sport and recreational facilities, with whom the University currently have contracts to allow University athletes to use the facilities at the Kelvin Hall Sports Arena. Glasgow Life, currently planning to refurbish the Kelvin Hall, hoped the University would contribute £3.5 million to the refurbishment, in exchange for a strengthened agreement between the two bodies which would guarantee University access to the facilities. The University would continue to pay Glasgow Life a yearly service charge of £170,000.
In response, the decision was made by University Management to end the GUU’s long running lease for the Extension and for the University to develop it’s own facilities at an estimated by the University to cost of £9.2 million. This will cost the University an extra £5.5 million for this year, in comparison to the arrangement being offered by Glasgow Life.
This is not the first occurrence in which the return of the Extension to the University has been discussed. A similar proposal was at the heart of the ill-fated 2008 Options Appraisal, a document looking at the 4 student body structure at the University. Its conclusions, including the return of the Extension, were rejected by the Unions and have generally considered to no longer play an effect on University policy.
Secretary of Court, David Newall, in a statement to the Guardian said:
As a result of the closure of sporting facilities at the Kelvin Hall next year, the University is considering extending our facilities in the Stevenson Building. A decision will be made when Court meets on the 12th of October… The Glasgow University Union has been briefed on this possible development and will be closely consulted should the University decide to build a sports extension … The University of Glasgow greatly values the contribution made by the GUU and will be working closely with the Union to ensure it continues to be part of a successful, important and vibrant part of campus life.
GUU President, Chris Sibbald, believes the University have to a greater or lesser extent made up their mind on the future of the extension:
This a detailed plan that will have taken months to create, there is no way this is the start of a discussion … I’ve said to the Principal and the Secretary of Court that we need to have transparent discussions on this.
He went on to discuss the effects the proposals will have on the Union:
The financial effects are ridiculous, we are profitable and this could lead to a £300,000 loss for the Union. It’s very serious.
In one respect this is the University turning its back on student social interaction on campus… it will rip the heart out of the Union. Glasgow is famous for its community of four student bodies but here it seems to be cutting off its own right arm.
Sibbald is taking an emergency unpaid Sabbatical to fight these proposals which he believes will have a negative effect for all students:
Cost of a student gym membership could reach as high as £100 which will see a decrease of student memberships as the gym seeks to become competitive on a corporate level and market itself to the general public.
Kirsty Hill, President of the QMU, expressed her sadness and disappointment with the proposals:
I’m just shocked, and upset for the GUU as they do play such a massive role on campus. I think losing a night club space is going to a have a seriously detrimental effect on student experience on campus. While the University may think this has a perceived advantage, I think this is massive loss for the students at Glasgow University.
Leo Howes, President of GUSA, had no official statement on the specific proposals relating to the Extension but did outline GUSA’s concerns:
The University’s 25 year contract with the Kelvin Hall as the major provider of indoor sports hall space is coming to an end and an alternative to this contract is desperately needed. Without an alternative sport and recreation provision, the students would be decimated and a number of indoor clubs lost.
The SRC President Stuart Ritchie acknowledged the announcement:
Although the timescale for the development is short, the details of these plans are still at an early stage. GUSRC has begun working with both the University and the GUU and will continue to do so going forward to ensure that the process is fair and that any progress on the development is done in the best interest of students.
With the GUU digging itself in for a fight, how does Chris Sibbald rate his chances? “I believe we will win, but we need the support of students,student media, and alumni, but as of now the University has left us in the dark”
Correction: Glasgow Life were seeking to up the incurred cost to the University by £170,000 a year, not £2.5million as the article originally stated.