The Spike [or Victoria University College Review 1961]
The Story of the Union Building
The Story of the Union Building
The history of our Student Union building from its initial conception to its final completion is largely a story of student foresight and endeavour. As early as 1929 the Students' Association formed a building committee and advised the University Council of £670 in hand towards a Union Building Fund. Even then the 'old gym', which continued to house the Association activities until 1958, was entirely inadequate to cater for the social and general College activities.
Over the next ten years Association building committees worked with continuing enthusiasm. Fund raising went on, until in 1937 over £1,600 was in hand, with an estimated target of £40,000. The committees made numerous requests and suggestions to Council in connection with fund raising and planning — an art union, a deputation to the Minister of Education, an approach to Government for a subsidy, and draft plans for a three-storey building. It appears that the Council was unable to act on these at this stage.
In 1946 the Minister of Education was able to advise the Association of a £2 for £1 subsidy up to £40,000. As we had over £9,000 in hand, this grant proved the turning point of progress, and detailed planning went ahead.
The next twelve years, until 1958, when construction commenced, saw a vigorous planning stage. An appeal now known as the Dixon Appeal (after the late George page 7 Dixon) was launched, sketch plans and possible sites were exhaustively considered, and finally further Government subsidy money was promised. This grant was realized largely by the student initiative in levying all students £1 per head per annum, and by the progress made in fund raising. By then the total cost of the completed project had risen to £282,000, and of this the students of the past thirty years have provided over £100,000.
The original conception of a Union Building had changed over the years, and by the time actual construction began the Union project comprised three separate structures: the Union building proper, the gymnasium, and new tennis courts with pavilion. All these will be completed and occupied this year.
The rooms in the main building include a theatre, cafeteria and kitchen, three common-rooms, four committee rooms, games room, editorial room, shop, caretaker's flat, Association and Executive rooms.
Seating 381 people; equipped with full flying facilities, projection and broadcasting box; and with the lighting controlled from a console front of house, the theatre is generally recognized as one of the finest in, Australasia. Already the Drama Club is rehearsing for a major production, the Extrav people thinking in terms of an intimate revue, the jazz and music clubs planning concerts, and the film society considering using Cinemascope.
Altogether when the theatre and cafeteria are considered with the science lecture theatre and Council reception room, as one unit, they are exceptional facilities. As well as intensive student use during the academic year, the unit will provide a unique venue for University, professional, and business conferences.
Arriving at a workable system of management for the buildings was an interesting problem. The original proposal, made by the Professorial Board in 1957, of a warden to control the buildings and facilities met with violent opposition from the Association. Various alternative possibilities centering round control by a committee were then considered. The Council would be legally the owner of the buildings, but at the same time the students had provided the initiative over the years, as well as a large proportion of the cost. It was therefore necessary to find a management solution which recognized the responsibilities of Council, and also gave effect to the principle that the Union is primarily for the student body. In 1959 the Council therefore set up a Student Union Buildings Management Committee, having a majority of student members.
Although the Management Committee has been in existence for just over six months, it has had to consider a great quantity of work. Questions of furnishing, equipping, and fitting the buildings; financial matters of depreciation, maintenance, salaries, revenue producing aspects, and the relative contributory rates of the Association and Council; the calling for, interviewing, and appointing of full-time employees have all occupied much time. To co-ordinate and develop committee affairs page 8 within the Union, they have provided for the appointment of a full-time executive officer called the Managing Secretary.
This officer will have threefold duties. He will be of at least lecturer status and expected to do some teaching in one of the departments. In liaison with the Association he will develop such services for students as board and lodgings, employment, health, and general counselling. And finally he will supervize the work of the full-time employees within the buildings, as well as acting as Secretary to the committee.
In addition to the duties delegated to the Secretary, other duties have been given to the Association Executive and sub-committees. Despite the volume of work involved, serving on these sub-committees has been really interesting. Never again, I suppose, will students have the chance of talking in terms of tens of thousands of pounds, and deciding on many more thousands of pounds worth of tables, chairs, cutlery, crockery, sofas, divans and the like.
The appointment of a permanent secretary to the Managament Committee will solve many problems for the Association Executive. However, I can see many more that will arise to replace them. Because of the transitory nature of the Executive administration there are some duties that have never been satisfactorily tackled. Perhaps the worst of these has been the question of services to students — and all these will be fully developed now within the buildings. Although this will lighten the burden on the Executive, many new problems will come with the use of the facilities. Although the tendency of past Executives to set up sub-committees at the drop of a hat has been halted, the new portfolio system will have to be used skillfully in the future to keep pace with student life.
There was some confusion with the use of the word Union a few years ago; and at one stage a Special General Meeting actually changed the name of the Association to Students' Union. Unfortunately this confusion has persisted, and it is still by no means clear what the word actually does mean. In the ideal I consider that a University Union connotes an association of past and present students and University staff. It follows that the buildings are for the use of these persons, and the administration of them should be geared to encourage their wider use. As a first step I consider that the Court of Convocation could well be revived and a Graduates' Association set up. Provision should then be made for this group within the buildings; certainly as a top priority for the next storey. Further, the number of present students on the Management Committee could well be cut down, and the positions replaced by graduate members. If the buildings are ever to be more than a semi-oasis on the campus for the full-timers, I feel that the Students' Association must strive to instill some real meaning into the buildings along the lines of the ideal that I have stated. However, I am confident that if the same student initiative is maintained over the years, the Union at Victoria will flourish in the truest sense of the word.
J. D. A. Hercus,President V.U.W.S.A. 1959-60