In fiery submission, AMS calls on UBC to prioritize mental health space on campus

UBC’s Vancouver campus is struggling to find space to house its mental health services, and the AMS isn’t happy about it.

AMS VP Academic and University Affairs (VPAUA) Max Holmes wrote a submission to the Board of Governors “in response to the capital priorities presented to the Board of Governors at the June 2018 meeting, in particular the information presented about the UBC Life Building (Phase 2)."

The second phase of the Brock Commons project aims to create a mixed-use building whose offices would include “a new integrated student health centre that would combine counselling and student health services,” according to the proposal given to the Board by Associate Vice-President Facilities John Metras.

“It’s a really important academic and student service components to this project … it’ll begin to create the student service precinct that we’re envisioning,” said interim Vice-President Students Andrew Parr at the time.

The Brock Commons Annex was intended to house Counselling Services once construction begins on Brock Commons Phase 2 — but will not longer be able to do so.

The planned second phase of the Life Building would also see the addition of a new Integrated Mental Health Centre — but there is no timeline for the renovation work.

Holmes’ submission expressed concern that measures will not be taken to improve student mental health services until Brock Commons is complete — and casts doubt on whether the promised space will ever be a reality.

“This is the result of a system that prioritizes academic needs over the basic health and wellbeing of students,” said Holmes.

Holmes said that the AMS wrote the submission to stress that mental health support is not an option but a necessity for the campus.

“There is also sometimes a reluctance to fund projects that may not be directly related to the academic mission or academic space but are more related to student health and wellbeing,” said Holmes.

Holmes said that space on the second floor of the Life Building was originally slated as a student health centre, but was then appropriated for swing academic space.

“Recently the AMS was told that due to a balancing of priorities, the second phase of the Life Building … was not going to continue as a project for a while because that flex academic space was needed,” said Holmes.

At a committee meeting on September 13, Board student representative Jakob Gattinger asked what was being done to resolve the need for swing space.

Metras responded that the university was constrained by capital funding, adding that more research was needed for a “long term plan.”

Board chair Michael Korenberg noted the importance of spaces for student mental health and stressed this was part of the “broader issue of space on campus.”

At the Board’s general meeting on September 27 at the Okanagan campus, Korenberg said that interim spaces at Vantage College and a modular space near Brock Hall could help fill the gap in capacity.

Holmes says pressure for new mental health space is rising due to the fact that Brock Commons will stop offering counselling services when construction starts — “and that’s close to a year away.”

Holmes emphasized that the AMS is “currently in discussions with the university, as well as Student and Development Services, to look at where space can be identified on campus, and the UBC VP Finance and Operations is working with us on how to identify space in the short-term as quickly as possible.”

“In the medium-term, looking at four or five years from now, the space that will be available for mental health resources on campus is going to be Brock Commons Phase 2.”