The announcement that work on the Langwith Bar conversion will not commence before the start of the the Autumn term has led to a standoff between YUSU and the University.
The decision by Director of Facilities Managment Keith Lilley, which looks set to delay work on the Union bar project until October, has prompted Langwith JCRC Chair Zach Pepper to call for YUSU to pressure Heslington Hall in an attempt to overturn the decision.
Work to remove asbestos present in the bar’s structure was expected to begin at the end of this term, enabling the five week renovation project to be completed before the end of September. It was hoped that the opening of the venue would coincide with the upcoming Freshers’ week.
However, in an email sent to YUSU Services and Finance Officer Matt Burton, University Registrar and Secretary Sally Neocosmos revealed that due to the large amount of “high-priority projects” being undertaken during the summer break, the asbestos removal, which has been agreed will be undertaken by the University, will not have the manpower to be completed.
“This is to confirm that January 2009 remains the date on which the outstanding project planning is being based. We were all aware that your preferred start date was October but we agreed that we could only commit ourselves with confidence to a January 2009 start,” wrote Neocosmos.
Burton, who has seen the project through from conception, expressed his disappointment at the new decision. “We thought we’d found a window of opportunity in the summer when the Langwith walkway project is being done, and the whole area will have to be shut down with regards to asbestos in the walkway,” he said.
Burton has also highlighted that a delayed opening, which will not allow the bar to capitalise on the lucrative first-term market, may seriously hamper the financial viability of the bar.
Pepper echoed Burton’s displeasure at the new decision, and confessed himself sceptical as to the University’s claims of fitting in all the development works over the autumn term.
“They’re saying they haven’t got time to do it in the summer, but they have in the autumn term. But that just doesn’t seem to fit,” he said. “The space is there in the summer, the time is there; they’ve closed the college off because of the walkway, they have no conferences in, there is nothing there all summer, and they’re saying they can’t do it. I think it’s a bit double-standard to be honest,” he added.
In response to the new development, Pepper submitted an emergency motion to last week’s UGM. The motion, if passed, mandates all Union Officers to “actively campaign and lobby the University and Vice-Chancellor” to prioritise the bar project. Lilley has stated that the decision to reverse this change lies only with Vice-Chancellor Brian Cantor.
Both Burton and Pepper have emphasised the need for students to work together to show University officials the importance of the project.
“We’re very strong advocates of working through diplomacy and democracy… but now it’s come down to us having to get the Vice-Chancellor’s ear to present our case as to why this is so important to us,” said Burton, who has also proposed a student-led protest to further to campaign. If the motion is passed, it is thought the protest will be given the official go-ahead.
The recent announcements come amidst news that Langwith is to be the second college to move to Heslington East, following the relocation of Goodricke planned for 2009/10.
In a statement from the University, the reasons for Langwith’s move were given as “purely down to there being not enough space for the college to develop in its current location” and not influenced by University concerns over falling revenue in the area over recent years.
When asked about how the relocation plans may effect the future of the Union bar, Burton stated: “Our business model is based around a three year plan, so the decision won’t affect the bar in that time.”
There have been concerns that the Langwith venture may be overshadowed by the central venue planned for Heslington East. “We’ll be running the Students’ Union venue [on Heslington East], but have always been committed to maintaining a presence on both sides of campus so that we’re working as one unit as there are still going to be a lot of people on Heslington West,” he explained, keen to dispel fears.
There are no confirmed plans for the area after Langwith relocates, though it is thought Derwent may expand into it.