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As a senior, I’ve seen the benefits of UCSB’s growth throughout my time here: I’ve spent hours studying in the brand-new wing of Davidson, I’ve seen the construction of multiple brand-new housing options, and I’ve seen upgrades to the Rec Cen and the student dining commons. But while this trend has ultimately been positive, it has also revealed some of the university’s greatest growing pains. And as the current chair of the UCen Governance Board, as well as an employee of the UCen for the past 2.5 years, I’ve come to understand one of these pain points firsthand.

The UCen, situated in the middle of campus, is one UCSB’s hallmark buildings. Originally built in 1968, the building was intended to be a common ground for students, faculty, and staff to convene and converse.

However, some areas in the UCen haven’t been upgraded since its construction, and over time, it’s become a tarnished and underutilized space. For example, last quarter, leaks caused a ceiling tile to fall to the ground, narrowly missing a student studying for finals. And just last week, one of the building’s main water pipes burst, causing flooding in multiple areas and creating an unpleasant smell throughout the whole facility. At times, it can feel like the building is bursting at the seams; it’s clear the UCen can no longer meet the needs of our current student population. What’s more, when set against the backdrop of UCSB’s growing student body, the building’s shortfalls become even more dire.

That’s why the UCen Governance Board has facilitated a proposal to address this problem, a plan we’re calling “Our NewCen.” The goal of the “NewCen” proposal is to both expand the UCen to increase general-purpose student space such as study space and meeting rooms, but also to re-purpose parts of the UCen to meet student needs that aren’t currently fulfilled by existing campus resources.

If we don’t act soon, future Gauchos will be putting money into a building that is potentially hazardous, but also isn’t able to adequately serve their needs.

As news about “Our NewCen” has made its way around campus, I think there’s been some confusion as to what the revenue generated from this fee would be used for. Lots of students have understood the buzz-phrase “UCen renovations” to be limited to cosmetic updates such as carpeting, paint, etc., but in reality, this project goes far beyond that. “Our NewCen” reimagines the UCen to be the central hub on campus, where students can access the services they need most, like the A.S. Food Bank, counseling and mental wellness, and tutoring and 24-hour study space.  

The fee referendum proposed by “Our NewCen” would begin in 2018 and calls for a $20 per quarter fee for the first four years, during which architects would be hired to collaborate with students, finalize the “NewCen’s” design, and determine how to put the concept into action. Once construction ends in 2022, the fee rises to $96 per quarter.

If this project does not begin now, the UCen will continue to be outdated, and UCSB students of the very near future will find themselves in an even more crowded environment than the one we currently find ourselves in. Furthermore, the UCen continues to deteriorate without renovation. Dangerous instances like the broken ceiling tile and burst water pipes will increase in both frequency and cost to students with the passing of time. This means that if we don’t act soon, future Gauchos will be putting money into a building that is potentially hazardous, but also isn’t able to adequately serve their needs. Much like past Gauchos voted for fee increases to fund the Rec Cen and SRB (facilities we all use and enjoy), we have the opportunity to make a similar decision for our future generations.

I will be graduating in the spring. Though this means I would be unaffected by the potential student fee increase, it also provides me a state of objectivity with regards to the project. Outside of the UCen Governance Board, I am not otherwise involved in student government, and will be leaving academia to pursue a career in a field unrelated to public policy or community projects. With that in mind, I will be voting to affirm this fee increase because I believe it will improve UCSB in a number of ways, and will prevent what would be an inevitable strain on future students and community spaces.

Whether this year or in years to come, it’s undeniable that the UCen will require a major overhaul at some point. A project of this magnitude will only prove more urgent as the UCen deteriorates, and more expensive as time goes on. Ultimately, it is up to you, the student body, to weigh the costs and benefits and decide whether to fund a project for the future. Above all and most importantly, be sure to vote and participate in AS elections to take part in the democracy that you are a part of, and ensure that your voice is heard.

Luke McCrary wants to make sure that the NewCen has a fair chance.