Works have begun on the top floor of the Student centre to build offices for the Director of Student Services Dominic O’Keefe and his administrative team. The offices are expected to be completed for use by February 2017.
The second-floor of the Student centre remained unfinished after the building was opened in late 2012. The Tribune reported earlier this April that the initial plans for the Student centre had earmarked the top floor to house an expanded Student Health & Counselling service. The health service is currently located in the second-floor of the old student centre above the Student’s Union offices.
The Tribune can now reveal that instead the Director of Student services Dominic O’Keefe and the other members of the student services team who run the Student centre, will be moving into new offices in the empty top floor.
When it was put to Mr. O’Keefe if it was his decision to not move the Health Service to the new space, and then subsequently develop the floor for his own team’s use he confirmed he did action ‘the relocation of the Student Services office’ to the new centre’s top-floor.
When it was put to Student Services director Dominic O’Keefe if it was his decision to not move the Health Service to the new space, and then subsequently develop the floor for his own team’s use he confirmed he did action ‘the relocation of the Student Services office’ to the new centre’s top-floor.
The new offices will see a markedly larger ‘manager’s office’ for Mr. O’Keefe himself compared to his old office. The office plans, obtained by the Tribune also show an adjacent meeting room for Mr. O’Keefe, a waiting room, and a six-seat open office for the student services team.
Dominic O’Keefe’s old office and another office which are in the old student centre will now be converted into two additional counselling rooms for the Student health service. Speaking to the Tribune Mr. O’Keefe said ‘the UCD Health & Counselling service is, here and now, experiencing an increased desire of engagement from our student body’.
He continued to say that ‘in the ultimate interest of protecting our students well-being, I have actioned the expansion of the Health & Counselling centre to align with the necessary spatial requirements needed, which in turn summons the relocation of the Student Services office’.
Another spokesperson for UCD student services stated the ‘repositioning’ of their office was ‘a result of the expansion of the UCD Student Health & Counselling Centre’.
Image: Plans for the new Student Services offices in the Student Centre top floor.
Dr. Sandra Tighe, the medical director of the UCD Health & Counselling service said the two additional offices were welcome. The service in recent years has received ‘significantly more demand’ she said. For example, previously she said the service had a nurse ‘working in a room with no window’. The two extra offices as well as incoming funding to hire an extra GP part-time would help meet demand she claimed.
Existing strain on the system has led to the college now paying for students to go to an external counselling centre, ‘My Mind’ in Ranelagh. UCD has been providing students with vouchers for five sessions to attend counselling services there, in order to take pressure of the stressed service in Belfield. The cost of sending a student for a five session counselling course in the external private service comes to €100 per student.
Speaking on the scrapped proposed move to the new Student centre Dr. Tighe said she had believed the ‘capital funding never materialised’ to furnish the top floor of the new Centre, and wasn’t aware that Dominic O’Keefe and student services were now moving to the location.
Dr. Tighe said she had believed the ‘capital funding never materialised’ to furnish the top floor of the new Centre
The original architectural plans for the new student health service outlined space for twelve medical and counselling offices, as well as a reception area and a meeting room for staff. Dr. Tighe admitted that after the coming addition of the extra two offices, that there isn’t any further room to expand the service in future from its current location.
The Student Centre cost over €50 million to construct and was paid for in a large part by the student levy each student in UCD pays. The student levy currently stands at €247, this goes towards paying off the cost of building the new centre, as well as funding the Students’ Union, sports clubs, and societies.
The initial works to kit out the Student centre top-floor as a medical centre and build highly specialised ‘new suite treatment rooms’ was projected to cost up to €1 million. But other complications and delays in the Student Centre’s construction led to fears the development would run over budget. Therefore, the top floor works were cut in October 2011 in order to ensure the project came in under budget, according to reports of the college Governing Authority. At the time Dominic O’Keefe was project co-ordinator during the construction, and manager of the old student centre. Following the delivery of the project under budget O’Keefe was appointed Director of Student Services, and tasked with also running the new Student Centre.
Mellor Enterprise Ltd is one construction company involved in the building works of the new top-floor offices. As the UCD Student Centre is technically registered as a private company (albeit being 100% owned by UCD) it doesn’t have to comply with government regulations on procurement. Thus private contracts within the Student Centre as such don’t have to put to an open competitive tendering process to ensure value for money. Mellor Enterprise also did the works to covert Dominic O’Keefe’s old office into suitable counselling rooms, and previously worked on the construction of the new Clubhouse Bar; which was also overseen by Dominic O’Keefe. Mellor Enterprise are listed as a company that have made donations to the UCD Foundation.
The UCD Student Centre as a limited company has significant scope for lateral action and decision-making outside of the university management structure. The finances of the Student centre, and the budget Dominic O’Keefe oversees is not subject to Freedom of Information legislation.
Students’ Union Welfare Officer Roisin O’Mara echoed that the current health and counselling services ‘is under pressure’. O’Mara explained that from ‘mid-term to end of term is always when counselling services need peaks, the waiting list just grows’.
On the shelved move to the new Student Centre she said she ‘wouldn’t say it’s disappointing as such, certainly it may have been bookmarked for medical use’ but ‘if there’s existing services there, and they work, and students know where they are – I find it hard to see why we’d move something up to the second-floor of the centre’.
There currently is a review of the health service taking place within the university administration. Director Sandra Tighe says she hopes the college can ‘find a way forward’ and decide ‘how we might fund’ the service for the future. Demand she warned will ‘continue to grow’ and access to services will only get worse without more investment. But with Dominic O’Keefe and student services moving to the new centre’s top-floor, there is now no conceivable new location to house an expanded health & counselling service if more funding is provided.
Jack Power | Editor