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March 9, 2009 | by  | in Features |
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A New Kelburn Campus

Salient writer Sarah Robson trawls through the bloody entrails of the Campus Hub Redevelopment Project, and the murderous history that precedes it.

Do students care about the physical appearance of their university? Are improved spaces and facilities high on students’ list of priorities? You may have heard—a Special General Meeting (SGM) was held in the quad last Wednesday. The VUWSA Trust was seeking a formal mandate from students to enable it to make a $12 million contribution to the upcoming Campus Hub Redevelopment Project. But not enough people showed up. A quorum of 100 was required for the vote to proceed. Only 37 people raised their hands to be counted. Did only 37 people care?

Last year, Salient reported on progress made by Victoria University in implementing the Campus Development Framework (CDF). The Campus Hub Redevelopment Project (CHRP) is one aspect of the CDF’s grand scheme to transform the Kelburn campus. Extreme Makeover: Campus Edition, anyone? What is this so-called Campus Hub? And why should you care about it?

A Diseased Campus

You know it. I know it. Architects and consulting firms are paid to say it, but it’s actually true. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: the Kelburn campus is downright ugly. It’s the victim of awkward topography, misguided development strategies, and years of neglect and abuse. A Professor of Architecture once labelled it “the worst campus in the developed world.”

It’s not like no one’s told the University that the Kelburn campus is ugly. It’s no secret. Significant research and surveys have been undertaken by both the University and VUWSA to gauge student opinion about Vic’s facilities and find out what exactly it is that students want.

The University’s own review in 2005 of how it was “managing and meeting the changing needs and expectations of students” only confirmed suspicions. Feedback from staff and students showed that there was a “lack of adequate facilities and spaces” at the University, and particularly the Kelburn campus. The Campus Development Framework (CDF) was born, and serious long-term consideration was—at last—given to the future spatial and architectural requirements of the Kelburn campus.

The CDF has already spawned a new Hall of Residence, Te Puni Village, on Fairlie Terrace, to cope with the ever-growing demand for student accommodation. Under construction is a new Teaching and Research facility, the Allan MacDiarmid building, due for completion in March 2010.

Now enter Campus Hub: the grand redevelopment project to reinvigorate the Kelburn campus, give it a central heart and transform it into a “world-class campus”. The cosmetic work in the pipeline is extensive. It needs significant funding. It needs the support and endorsement of students. It is, of course, students who are set to be the prime beneficiaries of the extreme makeover. The quad is in for a treat. If students give their support to the VUWSA Trust’s involvement in the project, the Student Union Building (SUB) will be too.

Outbreak Imminent

How did the Kelburn campus get to be so ugly? It’s a long story. But the short version is this: as student numbers increased over the years, there was a need for more space for teaching and research. What did the University do? It built a new building every so often, as demand required. The result? The mismatched, shambolic construction of a pile of buildings, with no real long-term vision given to the future development of the University.

A crucial call was made in 1945 regarding the development of the Kelburn campus. That year, the University Council moved that “the immediate development of the Victoria University College shall take place on the present site, with such extensions as may prove possible.”

Earlier that year, the Students’ Association had suggested moving the campus to the inner-city. It was obvious to the Students’ Association that the campus could only expand in one direction—south—which would result in “an untidy, drawn out, heterogeneous collection of buildings devoid of any beauty whatsoever.” The idea was dismissed by the University big-wigs. Someone should have listened to the Students’ Association.

Fast-forward a few years. Every so often, a new building would appear on the Wellington skyline, to varying levels of public outcry and disdain. There were once some ex-US Army huts that housed various University departments following the end of World War II. Then there was Easterfield in 1958 in all it’s straight-outta-America glory, the Rankine Brown building in 1966, Cotton in 1972, New Kirk, Von Zedlitz, Murphy, Laby, the quad…

Although grand plans involving the extension of the University into Aro Valley were tossed around and praised by the likes of Sir Basil Spence (the dude who built the Beehive), they never eventuated. Architects and consulting firms were hired, commissioned to write reports, and fired. Law, architecture and commerce moved out and into town. The Kelburn campus, meanwhile, remained a mix ‘n’ match architectural nightmare.

Today, Vic faces many challenges in terms of the development of the Kelburn campus site. “Our university has around half of the space per EFTS [equivalent full time student] of a lot of other universities in Australasia, so we are very, very tight on space,” Director of Facilities Management Jenny Bentley said.

“We have relatively few flat building sites,” she said. “We’re also concerned to ensure that we create space in a logical way, and we have principles around what we use space for.” The CDF and the CHRP set out to make the most of the limited space available.

CDF, WTF

The Campus Development Framework (CDF), released by the University in August 2006, is a 10-year plan providing direction for the future development of Victoria. The document outlines several major building projects that seek to fulfill the vision to transform Victoria into a “memorable, vital and attractive place.”

The CDF came about following a review in 2005 of how the university was keeping up with the changing needs and expectations of students. The review showed that Victoria was “lagging behind other tertiary institutions.” An expected rise in students numbers will put pressure on the University’s existing facilities, and room to grow is at a premium. The solution? A series of extreme, potentially pricey, fancy-pants development projects.

While the CDF applies to the entire University, special focus is placed on the lacklustre Kelburn campus. Deferred maintenance, and the prioritised of the development of the Te Aro and Pipitea campuses, are cited in the CDF as reasons for the Kelburn campus’ neglect in recent years. Despite the loss of various faculties to other locations, the Kelburn campus remains the heart of the University.

The Te Puni Hall of Residence, completed in time for the start of the 2009 academic year, and a new Teaching and Research Building under construction between Cotton and Laby are some of the results of the CDF to date.

Airport Bathrooms

What’s the deal with this Campus Hub thing? The Campus Hub Redevelopment Project is a joint venture between the University and the VUWSA Trust. The preliminary concept design work for the Campus Hub was done over 2007, and into early 2008, Bentley said. Discussions with the VUWSA Trust also happened over this period.

The University Council has already given its approval to the overall project, in principle. “It has taken a while,” Bentley said. “The University has had to balance its investment priorities so the design work for this, and the partnership developed with the VUWSA Trust, was clearly going to take some time.”

The VUWSA Trust, since it paid off the extension to the SUB in 1999, has been looking for another major project, that will benefit the students of Victoria, to fund. The Trust has insisted that students need to be involved in the project from the outset.

“It needs to be student-driven, we need to be in there from the beginning, making sure VUWSA’s involved as well. It needs to be a project that students have been involved in initiating, and the whole design of it is what students want, rather than you know, some crusties at the University come up with an idea and students just pay for it,” VUWSA Trust Chair, Alistair Shaw explained.

The University has welcomed the support of the VUWSA Trust in the project. “I find it really exciting that we are able both to partner VUWSA and VUWSA Trust, and to together embark on a project that will make a significant difference to students for the future,” Bentley said.

“I think that it is exciting for the University to be able to do that, it’ll be exciting for the students using it, and that sense of partnership and improving facilities, I find that very exciting,” she excitedly added.

As it currently stands, the Campus Hub involves a carefully orchestrated, carefully staged, carefully managed “plan of attack”. The SUB will be first to go under the knife, beginning with an upgrade of the Memorial Theatre, so it can be used as a lecture theatre, as well as retaining its usual theatre capabilities. The Union Hall will undergo significant improvements to increase its capacity and make it a better place to hold gigs. A new bar and café will also magically appear within the confines of the Union Hall. A clubs space will be developed in what is currently the Mount Street Bar and Café. The meeting rooms underneath Vic Books on the second floor will be transformed into a representative groups space.

Once the SUB is done and dusted, hopefully by Orientation 2010, the big work can begin on the quad. Diggers and other exciting sorts of heavy machinery will be called in to excavate the quad, bringing it down to the same level as level one of the library and the top entrance of the SUB. What we currently know as the quad will be enclosed to create a central “Hub”, a space for study and socialisation. There will also be space for retail development within the Hub. The library will be refurbished and no longer will it be an unappealing place to waste hours of your life studying in a zombie-like fashion. Some final lanscaping touch-ups will complete the extreme makeover and taadaa! Move that bus!

Situation Worsening

Student spaces at Vic have tended to be an epic fail. They either a) sucked or b) never took off as sweet places to smoke, socialise and gossip about the day’s events. Back in the day, students used to congregate on the Hunter steps. In the 1960s, as the campus grew and smoking space on the steps became harder to come by, Hunter became less cool. The open space between the library and Easterfield was recognised as the new centre of the university. It was once a carpark. In the 1970s, the cool kids who rode motorbikes parked them there.

Around this time, the Staff Club president thought it might be a nice idea to develop non-academic amenities in this central area “a bank, post office, telephones, a book store…” Sound familiar? The president argued that “the failure of university planners to make any sort of provision whatsoever for the elementary needs of its captive population… represents an inexcusable indifference towards the welfare of those they purport to plan for.”

In 1979, work began on creating the soulless concrete monstrosity that is now the quad. The University hoped to “create a sense of unity and significance” in the space that “befits its central location and its heavy pedestrian usage.” Hmmm. Complete with its “Crystal Palace” clear polycarbonate roof, the quad was to be the new, wind-swept central student gathering space.

The CHRP sets out to finally do what the Staff Club president suggested over 30 years ago. The Hub will provide students with new social and informal study spaces, and improve connections and pedestrian flow between the quad and other parts of the University. Retail development and the provision of essential student services in the Hub are an important aspect of the overall project. “We’ve been working with Vic Books, which is our primary retail partner, and looking carefully at what their needs will be in terms of space… and design as we finalise the design of the area,” Bentley said.

“What we’ve also done is put together some expert external advice, looking at the [retail] demand at a University of this size in New Zealand, what other sorts of retail can be supported by the numbers we have.”

Cure Rumoured

The SUB has had an equally tumultuous history. The idea for the building was born in 1931, when the Students’ Association was faced with the dire need to replace the elderly gym. A building committee was created and was given the task of raising £10,000 for the project.

It was 30 years later that the SUB was finally opened. In all, students contributed just over a quarter of the cost of the building. The SUB’s operational costs were shared between the university and the Students’ Association. Since construction began in 1958, a wrangle between the University and the Students’ Association has ensued over the SUB’s ownership.

The ownership issue was resolved in 2006 when a deed forming the Joint Student Union Board, and an accomanying operating agreement, was negotiated and signed by the University and VUWSA.

The SUB had everything a student in the 1960s needed: a theatre, café, a Union Hall and space to socialise. But within a couple of years, the student population had already outgrown the SUB and a third storey was added. In 1991 the award-winning VUWSA Trust-funded extension of the SUB was completed.

However, the SUB has been under-utilised in recent years. Shaw attributes some of this to University’s development of Vic’s satellite campuses. “When the University started moving people to Pipitea, and then to Vivian Street, they didn’t take any account of what that would mean for retail businesses at Kelburn. I think that had a much bigger impact than what people had thought,” he said.

The SUB used to be home to a number of businesses, including a pharmacy and STA Travel. “When the businesses started failing and then started moving, that also really started affecting the thoroughfare, as in people coming in and out of the building,” he explained.

Shaw believes that the CHRP will reinvigorate the SUB and make it more connected to the rest of the campus. As well as the planned clubs and representative groups spaces and the Memorial Theatre and Union Hall upgrades, the Campus Hub will also see Student Health and Counselling services moved into the ground floor of the SUB.

“People need to see it as a destination, and I hope we’ve tried to capture that,” Shaw said. “Making the theatre into a lecture theatre will bring 300 people an hour into it. Putting Student Health and Counselling where the Basement Café is at the moment will also bring more people through.”

The Union Hall upgrade will involve acoustic and sound-proofing improvements. Increasing the capacity of the Union Hall by an extra 300 people will make it the only venue of its size in Wellington—an attraction for touring bands from out of town to play gigs here. Shaw also believes that “if we can have a proper functioning bar in the Union Hall, then that will also make it a more lively space.”

GFC Much?

But hold on. Where’s all the money coming from? Money doesn’t grow on trees. Heck, there’s a G-F-fcking-C (global financial crisis) going on. Redevelopment projects, like Campus Hub, don’t come cheap.

The funding for the project comes from two sources: the University (confirmed, in principle) and the VUWSA Trust (pending). “It is a very significant investment programme for the University, right across Te Puni Village, Allan MacDiarmid, and the Hub. It has been a matter of managing that in a careful way that gives us the outcomes around facilities, while still maintaining a robust financial position for the University,” Bentley explained.

The University’s funding of the CHRP will be approved annually, in line with the University’s usual budget setting processes. However, Bentley added, “once you get to a certain point in the approval process, there has to be a commitment to fund it right through to the end of that process. There will be a point in the Hub project that there is a multi-year commitment given to enable the building to be built.”

The VUWSA Trust’s financial involvement in Campus Hub is dependent on students giving their formal support for the proposed spending. Last Wednesday’s SGM was an opportunity for students to give their support, or otherwise, for the Trust’s contribution.

The Trust wants to spend $12 million on the Campus Hub redevelopment over 15 years. Much of the funding for the project will come from the Building Fund that has accumulated over the last ten years. Students contribute to the Building Fund as part of their Student Union membership fee and there are certain conditions surrounding what the Building Fund can be used for.

Shaw estimates that the VUWSA Trust will be able to pay for the project out of its returns from commercial operations and investments each year.

The Trust won’t be able to fund another project of this size in the near future, but Shaw believes that “there’s no project that we’re aware of that we’re going to have to turn down. There are some projects that have been kicking around that we think we will be able to fund as well as what we’re doing now.”

Shaw does not believe that the Trust’s support of the CHRP will hamper the Trust’s financial position. “Even if we ended up with no money when we’ve finished paying it off, we’ll start accumulating again… We’ve accumulated this money over ten years to spend on this project. If we ended up with nothing, that’s not our intention. But I don’t think that would be the end of the world. If it’s a project that will end up taking us 16 or 17 years to pay off, if we had to borrow some for a bit, well that’s alright too.”

Who is the VUWSA Trust

The VUWSA Trust was initially established in 1975 to manage the long term assets of the students’ association. Current chair, Alistair Shaw, said the goal of the Trust was “to take the long term projects and the commercial activities out of the hands of the Exec… it’s a separate organisation.”

The Trust, as it has built up a pool of funds, has also sought to provide financial support for major infrastructure projects that would benefit the students of Wellington. The last major project to be funded by the Trust was the extension of the Student Union Building in 1991. Since 1991, the Trust has funded a number of smaller projects and has made grants to various clubs.

The Trust’s funds come from a number of sources, including students’ contributions to the Building Fund through VUWSA, surplus earnings from operating Vic Books, rent from the Trust-owned building on Mount Street (currently occupied by Student Job Search), and profits from an investment portfolio.

Lifeless Apathy

Why was last Wednesday’s SGM a no-go? Why didn’t enough students turn up to vote? Is it that students don’t know about the project? Is it because they just don’t care? Was it bad timing or something to do with the sound system? “The lack of quorum was probably due to a number of factors,” VUWSA President Jasmine Freemantle said. “VUWSA’s Orientation programme is extremely full and diverse, and students are very busy settling into University life during the first week of classes.”

“The acoustics in the quad are also extremely substandard, which made it difficult for students to hear and understand what was going on,” she said. “Somewhat ironically, fixing the quad is one of the key aspects of the Campus Hub development.”

It’s not that students haven’t been told about what’s going on. The Trust and the University have actively sought to engage and consult with students right through the concept and design process. “What we did is we made sure that there were student representatives at every discussion,” Shaw said. “When [we] were fine tuning things, like what’s the clubs space going to look like, we had a forum for clubs to come along and talk about that.”

Students have had opportunities to provide feedback on the project through workshops, focus groups, meetings and presentations. The Trust has distributed flash glossy pamphlets about the Campus Hub project, and there’s even a website. Posters were plastered everywhere about the SGM. Is it a lack of support for the project, or just apathy?

Both Shaw and Freemantle have commented that there is a general feeling of support amongst students for the Campus Hub. “The proposed project is of benefit to students, and is not controversial,” Freemantle said. “While the general feel from the student body is one of support, often it is difficult to actually mobilise people to turn up to a meeting.”

Shaw wondered if students were “apathetic” towards the project. He was disappointed with the turnout, especially considering the amount of consultation and promotion work the Trust had undertaken.

Spotting Infection

It’s important to be informed of—and realise—what’s at stake in the Campus Hub project if students do not support the VUWSA Trust. “The reason there’s the Hub project and the reason it has all these student friendly spaces, I think, is because of the Trust’s involvement,” Shaw said.

The primary student-funded work, that is the Union Hall upgrade and the clubs space, will be in jeopardy if students do not agree to the Trust’s involvement in Campus Hub. These two projects would be among the first completed as part of the overall Hub project, and students could be using those facilities by Orientation 2010.

The Trust has worked hard to ensure that the SUB was incorporated into the Hub project. “We were very keen on… making sure that the SUB was part of the project,” Shaw said. “There’s spaces that students want to work better in the Union Building. The Union Hall was identified as one, and a specific place for clubs was identified as another.”

Bentley said that the University would continue with other aspects of the Hub project, even without the support of the VUWSA Trust. “The University would continue with its own processes around design and approval,” she said. Work on core areas such as the library, the Memorial Theatre and the Health and Counselling services would proceed. “The only major, it might affect the scale of the work that’s done in the quad and the library over time.”

VUWSA and the Trust are giving it another go—an Initial General Meeting will be held on 18 March, where the motions will be re-put, and hopefully quorum will be achieved. The fate of the VUWSA Trust’s involvement in the Campus Hub project will, fingers crossed, be decided.

“VUWSA and the Trust will continue to promote the importance of student involvement in the Campus Hub, along with the Victoria Broadcasting Club (VBC),” Freemantle said. “I never count my chickens before they hatch, but we will certainly do our best to gain quorum…”

The fate of Campus Hub is in your hands. It’s up to you whether you care about it or not. But can 100 people please just show up on the 18th?

VUWSA will be holding an Initial General Meeting on 18 March to decide the fate of the VUWSA Trust’s proposed spending on Campus Hub.

You can check out the website www.campushub.co.nz for more information about Campus Hub and the VUWSA Trust’s involvement in the project.

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Editor for 2010, politics nerd, panda fan and three-time award-winning student journalist.

Comments (2)

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  1. Superior Mind says:

    Firstly it’s true, the Kelburn campus is the epitome of all crappy University campuses. I mean our library and most of the Quad looks like it’d be at home in Prypiat, (and I mean AFTER the Chernobyl disaster.) Last year I travelled to Dunedin and hung around Otago Uni a bit; the comparison between their campus and ours was honestly painful.

    Bearing in mind that our campus does indeed need a nuclear bomb of a makeover I can fully understand the apathy of the student body. I mean c’mon you may say that it’s deciding how “our” money is spent but it’s not our money as such, even if it once was. We pay our VUWSA subsidy every year because we have to, most of what we pay to VUWSA goes into things that never directly benefits us. Nevertheless we accept it, we bid our money adieu and get what we can out of it by possibly joining a couple of clubs or writing anonymously to Salient.

    The point at which people care about it as “our” money really ceases as soon as VUWSA gets it, at least that’s what the general apathy of the student body suggests when it comes to their input on matters of how VUWSA spends money. The question people are asking, (IF they’re asking anything,) is “How is this campus makeover any different from the many other things “my” money goes into that doesn’t benefit me?” Even the most juvenile of first years will probably be out of here before they can get any benefit from the new campus. Meanwhile they will be the ones who have to deal with all the work going on around the place.

    It certainly seems as though we get the short end of the stick. Our money, (if you consider it “ours”,) goes into redeveloping the campus, the process of which will dick us around for years and by the time the degree factory spits us out a piece of paper with our name on it so we can stride off boldly into the wild blue yonder the renovations still won’t be finished. We pay, we deal with the work and we don’t benefit. It’s perfectly understandable that people don’t care enough to go along and vote.

    However I feel I need to go back to my first point, the Kelburn campus is awful. Go to any other University campus and you’ll fully appreciate just how much of a shitheap the Kelburn campus is. It needs work and if we’re the sorry sons of bitches who have to be the ones to pay for it then so be it.

    At least what we can take away from it is the sense of self-esteem that comes from being the people who actually take action instead being among those people who sit around with their thumbs up their arses. From what I’ve experienced the majority of Victoria University students do fall into this second catagory but I sincerely hope that enough of the first type exist so we can finally beat Kelburn campus into something presentable.

  2. Superior Mind says:

    Oh, and I fully realise that the 12 million dollar VUWSA contribution will be given over a process of fifteen years so don’t bother pointing that out.

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