There are 3,006 new beds planned to be constructed in UCD. Phase One of this development is currently underway. While there have been some criticisms about the project, for example, the lack of affordable rooms expected, it is universally recognised that there is a need for this accommodation. However, you may not have thought about where 3,000-odd extra people will go to procrastinate for hours on end. There are only so many couches in the student centre. Well, the brains of UCD Residential Working Group have thought about this, and they subsequently planned the construction of the Fulcrum Building.
The Fulcrum building will be a seven-storey structure, with the upper five floors mainly consisting of studio apartments. The bottom two floors however, will act as a student hub; a “new-new student centre”. The ground floor will comprise of an auditorium with approximately 290 seats, a restaurant, four retail units for potential occupation by a bank, coffee shops and a convenience store. There is even a small phone shop and juice bar in the plans – appropriately suited to the ‘D4’ postal address. The proposed floor-plan also reveals a bar within the restaurant. The first floor houses a dance studio, a barber shop, a fitness suite with a gym and five bookable multi-use rooms which students can reserve, similar to the bookable rooms in the current student centre. There will be little dead space throughout these two floors, with most of the remaining floor space to be filled by seating areas. The top floor will also house a health and well-being centre.
It is designed to be a fully-equipped hangout spot for UCD students, both for those living on-campus and otherwise. However, it raises some questions. Is this the facility we need most? Is this location going to split the student hubs or add to the overall campus?
Firstly, there is an ongoing housing crisis in this city, and UCD has taken action. UCDSU President Barry Murphy stated that although these blocks are planned to be expensive, students do need somewhere to stay. He also mentioned that if the housing supply is meeting demand, it will subsequently lower housing prices in the surrounding areas of UCD. More accommodation is also required to house the increasing number of international, non-EU fee paying students that UCD wants to take in. Murphy claims the university is forced to bring in more international students to make up for the shortcomings in the funding that the Irish government is investing in third-level education. The Fulcrum Building comes as part of the residential suite designed in the UCD Residences Masterplan, as a connecting point for all the residential blocks. With regards to whether this is the best use of space, it was thought to be better to build a focal point of facilities for its residences, rather than just more places to sleep and no places to socialise. Murphy told The University Observer that UCD decided on this plan as it was based on models in other universities where this type of building worked.
Secondly, the Fulcrum Building is connecting previously separate “Character Areas” on campus. The Belfield campus was split into 3 Character Areas to concentrate on their primary use, according to the Campus Development Plan. These three areas include a Sport and Amenities Area encompassing the current student and sports centres; an Education, Research and Innovation Area which mostly surrounds the two lakes and extends towards the Health Sciences building, while also including Richview and Newstead buildings; and lastly a Residential Area which includes the current residences blocks and the new planned ones. With regards to this Fulcrum Building breaching its precinct and possibly splitting the student hubs, Murphy claims that such an amenity actually serves a purpose on that side of the campus, “it’s going to be an effective use of space that will connect all of the residential blocks. It will become a hub for campus life and it’s another place where students can go to meet-up and get coffee or eat their lunch.”
When put in context, UCD is a community which is relative in size to Kilkenny City, and it does need more than one centre of leisure and activity. “I don’t think it will completely take away from what the student centre here does, I don’t think it will split the campus, I just think it will add to what’s currently available.” UCDSU consulted the UCD Residential Management team on whether this building had any possibility of splitting the student populous, but they were confident that it would, in fact, have an overall positive impact on student life.
The general consensus seems to be that this will be a great asset to the Belfield campus. It’s a key part of a suite that UCD is delivering for residences, to enhance student life and enhance the campus atmosphere. It should be noted that the current student centre is considered to have completely changed the life of the campus, and this new centre holds the potential to replicate this. Aisling O’Grady, the Head of Student Advisors in UCD, said “I absolutely welcome it. It’s 50,000 square feet that can be used by students, for student engagement and activities. It’s fantastic, and it’s going to be a vibrant place.”
The Fulcrum Building will be located along the bus route, connecting the commuter belt to a recreational facility. There will be an open square located just outside it and will be connected to Sutherland by a pedestrian-prioritised crossing. This square will be the new location of the Thursday food markets, and it has the potential to be used for a wide range of student activities.
For anyone interested in learning more about this project, the plans can be seen online at www.ucdplanning.ie.