WORK will finally recommence next week on a €34 million Student Centre in the University of Limerick, Limerick Voice can reveal
By Ellen Gough & Rebecca Lenihan
After three years of delays due to Covid-19 and ‘hyperinflation,’ the project to construct a multi-million euro Student Centre at UL is back up and running following a retender process and is due for completion in mid-2024.
The cost of the student centre, a 3,529 square metre building set over three stories, has risen by almost €10 million in the years since the centre’s initial plan. Some €25.47 million was initially allocated to complete the Student Centre building, according to the financial records seen by the Limerick Voice. The project is now expected to cost €34 million.
The facility is being funded on a partnership basis between the students and the University. The students voted in 2016 by way of referendum to fund almost 80% of the capital cost through a development levy. The project is due to be completed in 14 months.
After numerous setbacks, Monami Construction has been contracted to complete the new UL Student Centre, after the third bidding process for a new developer for the site last November.
Head of Student Engagement, Paul Lee, is looking forward to see the centre opened by the the first semester of the 2024/25 academic year.
“This will be a complete game changer for the students’ university experience. Whether it’s a non-academic meeting space for students, going live on air in our Media Suite or simply socialising over coffee, students can use this space to chill out and meet friends, be entertained and have fun in the games room.”
The project’s recommencement was welcomed by UL President Professor Kerstin Mey, who remarked that “the delivery of these student focused projects demonstrates UL’s commitment to providing top class facilities that will enhance the student experience.”
“UL has the highest ranking of all Irish third level institutions for student experience and the new student centre will further enhance the fantastic on-campus offering that UL is renowned for.”
The centre is set to include a landscaped roof garden on the first floor and new performance and event spaces, including a 230-seat capacity auditorium with retractable seating. It forms part of new campus facilities that also include the 22-acre Maguire’s Field pitches and the climbing wall at the UL Arena, which have already been completed.
Construction originally began in 2019, and the Student Centre should have been built and open by late 2021. Work ground to a halt as a result of pandemic lockdowns, with the original contractor going bust. A second contractor was given control of the site last year, however due to hyperinflation and the war in Ukraine, this first restart of the project failed.
Plans for the centre date back as far as 2012. The existing student centre, located in the Stables Courtyard, dates to 1999 when the student population was half what it is now.
“This building was supposed to have a longer lifespan, suddenly we were bursting at the seams,” recalled Mr Lee.
A detailed design brief for the building was developed following extensive consultation with student representatives and was voted on by students in a referendum in April 2016.
The Student Centre is funded through loans paid for by the Student Centre Levy which students are charged on top of their regular fees (also voted for in the referendum). The levy started in 2017 at €36 per academic year, and increased to €90 per year in 2019/20, with a fixed increase of €2 per year afterwards to account for inflation.
Almost €5.1 million has been collected from the Student Levy since 2017 from full-time students eligible to pay it, according to financial records seen by Limerick Voice.
With student numbers in UL set to increase, Mr. Lee is confident the project loans will be paid off sooner than planned.
He also stated there was never any notion of using that money for anything else while the project was stalled. “I think that if we ever said – ‘this is what you said you want it for, we’re going to take that money and build something that we didn’t tell you we were going to build’ – that would be a problem,” he explained. “The referendum was very specific about what the money would be used for.”
Student Life also recently announced that the Levy was halved for the autumn semester of 2022, to alleviate the pressures of the present cost-of-living crisis.
Maeve Rutledge, UL Student Life President, said: “We fought hard to secure a new tender and a reduction in the levy for current students and I am delighted to say we can finally deliver on what will be a world class student centre.”
“It was so important to us to get this project over the line this year. This new student centre is vital for our wider student body, and we have worked hard to ensure there were no more delays despite inflation and rising costs,” she added.
Martin Ryan, General Manager of UL Student Life, said: “In 2016 students voted in their thousands to give a resounding yes to leave a legacy of facilities on campus for the future students of UL. I am happy to say we are getting close to the finish line and the students of UL will have the final piece of the project when we open the doors in the summer of 2024 to a state-of-the-art building, unrivalled in Ireland.”
Find out more about UL Student Life.