ASUCLA budget plan may include multimillion dollar Ackerman renovation
By Sam Hoff
May 11, 2015 12:50 a.m.
The Associated Students UCLA’s budget and five-year plan, scheduled to be voted on this month, may focus on a multimillion dollar project to improve Ackerman Union’s appearance and layout.
Members of the association’s finance committee met Friday to discuss boosting ASUCLA’s financial state and keeping the student association afloat in the long term.
During the five-hour public meeting, several members expressed concerns about ASUCLA’s ability to keep its financial promises to the university if the association does not invest more in its facilities to keep them clean and presentable, in line with other university buildings. The association’s budget is reviewed annually by Chancellor Gene Block as part of an advance agreement with UCLA.
Among the options is a renovation project that could cost around $3 million focusing on Ackerman Union, including a large staircase connecting Ackerman’s A-level and first floor that could cost upward of $1 million, and other improvements to the food court on the first floor.
The association has seen a bevy of financial problems in recent years, partially due to a drop in sales in the UCLA Store’s textbook division and increased administrative costs stemming from changes in the payroll and human resources system.
The projected five-year forecast would leave ASUCLA with less than $6 million in the bank, millions lower than in recent years, and would bring the association closer to UCLA’s threshold for indicating an inability to pay back debts to the university.
ASUCLA’s financial situation is better than expected in some areas – textbook sales in recent months did not drop as sharply as budgeted, and outlying convenience stores, such as the Hill Top Shop, have provided a cushion of additional cash for the association.
But there are still other areas where the association is expected to lose money in the coming years, such as the impact of an increased minimum wage in 2016 that will affect a large percentage of ASUCLA’s workers.
Executive Director Bob Williams said he met with Campus Architect Jeffrey Averill to discuss potential improvements to the student unions, which includes Ackerman Union and Kerckhoff Hall.
Williams said Averill suggested ASUCLA should consider extending the large staircase between floors one and three down to A-level, replacing the Post Office Express and creating a central path for students to find their way through the building.
“What I think we should do is shore up the perception of the A-level and first floor space,” Williams said. “I think it would change the whole dynamic of the union if you could stand on the first floor and see down into the A-level.”
Williams suggested also allocating funds to improve the first floor Terrace Food Court, home to Panda Express and Sbarro in Ackerman Union, which he described as “embarrassing” in comparison to newer buildings on campus such as Carnesale Commons, Pauley Pavilion and the UCLA Meyer and Renee Luskin Conference and Guest Center, which is expected to open mid-2016.
Williams suggested that the association should push to complete construction before the new conference center opens.
“When they open that conference center and people walk across from the conference center or the new Pauley and the Hall of the Fame, they (shouldn’t) turn around and say, ‘This is the building the students run, that’s why it looks like this,'” he said.
He added that he thinks ASUCLA could be more vulnerable to the university exercising its option to reject the five-year forecast if the organization does not show a dedication to improving its facilities.
One point of contention at the meeting was increases in ASUCLA’s food prices, which UCLA Restaurants Director Cindy Bolton said are currently below market value.
Graduate Student Representative David Zeke said he thinks the association should consider increasing food prices at a higher rate to avoid the possibility of levying a student fee increase to boost ASUCLA’s finances. He added that by bringing in funds through food sales, ASUCLA would rely not just on students but also on faculty and visitors.
Zeke added he would like to see ASUCLA focus on improving the food court.
“The first floor dining room is the first priority,” Zeke said. “If someone walks in there, they’re like, ‘I’m in 1980.'”
Other potential projects, which have previously been a focus of ASUCLA’s efforts, took a back seat in Friday’s discussions. Board members hesitated at the idea of allocating money to a proposed cafe in Powell Library, a platform of former undergraduate student government president Devin Murphy.
“For us to fund a $400,000 coffee house that doesn’t have a return, that’s a big deal,” Williams said.
Officials added that other projects, including improvements to the patio outside Ackerman Union, will likely be pushed to after the five-year forecast concludes, so the association can spend its money on more pressing projects.
The ASUCLA Finance Committee will meet again Friday to vote on the 2015-2016 budget and five-year forecast before passing them to the association’s board of directors.
Contributing reports by Nicholas Yu, Bruin contributor.