Students debate multi-million dollar Coffman renovation

by Rebecca Czaplewski

Funding for the proposed $50 million Coffman Union renovation was the topic of choice at Wednesday’s Student Services Fees Committee public hearing, as students supporting or opposing the renovation took to the floor and addressed the committee.
Jorg Rivera, president of the Coffman Board of Governors, thanked the committee for a sub-committee’s recommendation last week to fund 75 percent of Coffman’s $50 million renovation request. He then asked them for continued support of the renovation as they make their final fees decision on Saturday.
“I know that this was a complex issue of planning for years and years,” Rivera said. “We’ve looked at all the funding issues, and we hope you all understand that as well.”
Coffman representative Michael Holland also spoke to the committee in support of the funding plans for the renovation by comparing funding for Coffman to other universities across the nation.
Supporters of the renovation mainly consisted of members of the Coffman Board of Governors and program council.
Although many renovation supporters took to the podium multiple times to use their allotted two minutes of speaking, a fair share of students voiced opposition to the proposed renovation.
University student Tim Kannel spoke against the renovation, the cost of which he described as “astronomical.” He also took issue with the proposed increase in student services fees that would happen if funding for the renovation is approved. Student services fees would be increased $90 per student by 2001-02 if the proposed renovation is approved.
“Do they know how many tacos you could buy at Taco Bell with $90 a year?” Kannel queried. “The ends just don’t justify the means.”
Other students also spoke out against the renovation, mainly commenting on the fact that Coffman will be closed for 18 months during the renovation. They also lamented the excessive use of students services fees for advertising to promote the renovation.
Although there are 23 fees-receiving groups at the University, fewer than 10 student organizations came before the committee at the public hearing. Members from the Minnesota Student Association, the Queer Student Cultural Center, the Department of Recreational Sports and the Student Dispute Resolution Center were among those most represented.
Members from MSA had an especially passionate view on the committee’s proposed level of funding for their organization. Their comments were largely in response to a sub-committee’s initial recommendation that MSA’s funding be cut.
MSA member Brett Rowlett maintained that the group is the only major voice for the undergraduate community at the University.
“If we stay with the proposed level, there will be no money to represent students on campus,” Rowlett said.
Sam Tuttle, another MSA member, asked the committee to reconsider their initial funding level. She apologized for MSA’s recent trouble with the presentation of their fees proposal. Earlier this quarter, MSA President Nikki Kubista and Vice President Erin Ferguson sparked controversy when they bypassed the association’s forum and submitted the MSA fees request to the committee directly.
“Mistakes have been made in the fees process, and for that I apologize,” Tuttle said. “But this reduction goes far beyond the punishment for MSA.”
Student Services Fees Committee Chairman Hardy Jackson thanked the 40-plus students and faculty for attending the hearing, which was the first of three held this week. The committee will hear testimony today at Coffman and Friday at the St. Paul Student Center.
“This is a chance to give us some feedback,” Jackson said to the audience. “We’re definitely eager to hear what you all think.”