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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Administration

SGA holds first ever town hall meeting, offers students chance to voice concerns


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SGA President Shaun Theriot-Smith said he hopes holding town hall meetings will encourage students to attend and voice their concerns. Photo by Emily Chambers | The Cougar.

The UH Student Government Association held a town hall meeting on Wednesday night providing students with a means to bring comments and concerns directly to its members. The meeting was the first of its kind and focused primarily on future developments on campus.

A new resolution by last year’s administration changed the meeting format to appeal to a wider base of students, while still stressing senator involvement with their constituents.

“We found that often times when town halls were held at the college level, that many folks just didn’t attend,” SGA President Shaun Theriot-Smith said. “So instead, we hold these university-level town halls. In addition to placing a higher level of accountability on the senators to attend registered student organization meetings.”

The night began with Theriot-Smith presenting an overview of his administration’s approach to the current year before transitioning into a question and answer session. 

A major issue asked about was plans for the beautification of campus grounds and surrounding buildings. 

Senator Hunter Bodiford, a representative of the Hines College of Architecture, offered some insight into the University’s approach, referencing another senator’s efforts to look into the possibility of power-washing the education building’s exterior.

“They didn’t feel that the cost… outweigh(ed) the benefits,” Bodiford said. “They’re eventually going to tear that down… so I think they’re waiting for the dust to settle on the master plan before they do a full over-haul and bring the campus up to speed.”

Theriot-Smith added onto that, clarifying how efforts proceed in different scenarios.

“So much of the campus itself… it’s not all just one big unit, sometimes,” Theriot-Smith said. “Individual colleges will often retain autonomous control over how their college looks or their buildings or grounds look sometimes.”

Theriot-Smith did acknowledge that the University is looking to tackle the issue of improving the grounds on campus that they have control over.

“Overall, there is a beautification issue that they are trying to tackle at the University as a whole,” Theriot-Smith said. “A component of that is trying to take care of those issues as they build new buildings, (and) as they build new parts of the campus.”

Theriot-Smith referenced the master plan, which provides frameworks for the future of campus in many areas, including open space, transportation and development.

“Whenever we put a shovel down in the ground, we’re doing one shovel for three things or one shovel for two things,” Theriot-Smith said. “As we continue toward satisfying that master plan, it will hopefully begin to fall more into place.”

Part of the master plan calls for the deconstruction of numerous buildings across campus, including Farish Hall, the education building, as well as the deconstruction of the Quadrangle dormitories.

Some concerns were sighted about what will replace the Quads in terms of affordability and space.

Senator Elliot Kauffman from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences sighted that in regards to the construction process, UH would not be losing any spaces in overall housing capacity.

“We’re not losing beds,” Kauffman said. “We’re trying to build up the number of residents on campus for multiple reasons. For one, it’s better for the community. If they were to remove a residence hall, they’re definitely going to make sure they match the bed count in some way, shape or form.”

Theriot-Smith followed up, defining what housing options would replace the Quads.

“The only building that is being torn down, or slated to be torn down is the Quads because the cost of renovating is too high,” Theriot-Smith said. “What will replace it is two different types of housing. One will mimic closely the Cougar Place type of style, so it’ll be…more affordable. That tends to be more popular with underclassmen.”

“Also, a new style of town-homes, similar to Bayou Oaks, but a little bit different,” Theriot-Smith said. “More catering toward our international student population. Our chancellor really wants to focus on improving the amount of international housing opportunities on campus.”

Theriot-Smith did qualify that the master plan is still in development and should be considered as a work-in-progress, and while the deconstruction of the Quads is planned to move forward, other aspects are still up for discussion.

“Keep in mind that the master plan is in the process of being developed, it’s in the phase two development stage, but it’s not set in stone,” Theriot-Smith said. “They haven’t automatically decided that they’re going to destroy Farish Hall, it’s something that they’ve recommended with design aesthetic.”  

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