UM photo club losing darkroom after fire in UC

116 university centre is being renovated into 'bookable' spaces

The existence of the UM photo club is in jeopardy after a fire took place outside UMSU University Centre (UC) March 13. 

The student club is one of the oldest on campus, dating back 50 years. Photo club president and computer science student John Baptista wants UMSU to continue providing a space for the long-standing club. 

According to Baptista, the photo club has roughly 50 members with more students coming in to use the darkroom services. The club uses its space to store equipment, hold workshops, congregate, take members on walkabouts and provide a darkroom to develop photos either for free or at a low cost. 

The club offered free development for black and white photos for members and $2 development for colour photos.

“A lot of the students come in because our prices at our darkroom are really good compared to other public darkrooms around the city,” Baptista said.

The photo club is now being pushed out of its permanent space in UC. 

The space included the last public darkroom at the U of M. Baptista said the photo club needs the darkroom and storage space at 116 University Centre to function.

“Running the club without a space would be very logistically difficult,” he said. 

Baptista said the first contact from UMSU regarding the fire was from UMSU service centre manager Leeandra Wren March 23 to tell them to vacate their space and remove all items due to the damage caused to the space by the fire. 

“Basically just [saying] ‘There was a fire […] can you please take your stuff out of the room because we need to do repairs,’” Baptista recalled. 

He said all members of the photo club executive team are storing club equipment in their homes and a storage unit they purchased after being refused alternative storage space by UMSU.

Baptista said he was concerned about the future of the darkroom from the beginning and asked Wren to clarify about whether it would remain a darkroom and how long repairs would take.

“She responded [that] it would take around 18 months and ‘I’m not sure how it will look after,’” he said. 

Baptista said the club requested to see the reconstruction proposal tender and the contract work plan to get a better idea of what the space would look like, but the inquiry fell on deaf ears. 

The photo club then received correspondence from Thomas Blumer — UMSU’s general manager — on March 31 saying the photo club would no longer have sole use of the space. 

According to Baptista, Blumer said “This situation has prompted UMSU to re-evaluate how our space is used currently.” 

“Later on in the email [he said] ‘Unfortunately, we can’t give you a room,” Baptista said. 

Blumer declined to comment for this article.

Baptista said he was told that UMSU is trying to move away from permanent club spaces to “rentable spaces.”

“This makes sense for clubs, but for our club which needs the darkroom, needs the space, needs the storage, it wouldn’t be very valuable for us,” he said. 

Baptista said that due to “the nature of our club, we need a space to do what we need to do.” 

Baptista said the photo club started a Change.org petition due to frustration over not making progress with UMSU executives and staff. He said the photo club was not properly informed of the removal of the darkroom and UMSU failed to give the club any say in the process.

“We didn’t feel like we were heard,” he said. 

“At this point, we’re not getting anywhere — we can’t talk to [Wren and Blumer], we can’t talk to [UMSU president Jelynn Dela Cruz]. What are we going to do?”

The petition was launched on May 10 and calls for Dela Cruz, UMSU vice-president student life Savannah Szocs, Blumer and Wren to make efforts to save the darkroom. Baptista said the photo club is overwhelmed and pleased with the support — the petition has garnered over 600 signatures to date. 

However, Baptista and other members of the club were able to see the progress of the renovations in person and he describes the room as “flattened.” 

“There’s nothing left.” 

The club is now left trying to work with UMSU to secure another space on campus. 

Szocs said the affected spaces are “not going to exist in the same way that they did before the fire occurred.”  

She said access to the spaces affected by the fire will not be possible for another two years, and the club darkroom space at 116 University Centre will no longer exist due to a redesign of the affected area.

Szocs said UMSU cannot give an alternative space to the photo club because it is impossible to give all student clubs their own dedicated spaces. 

“There are [many] student clubs that exist that are recognized through UMSU at the university right now. As much as we wish that we could give all […] clubs their own private space to work in […] unfortunately, we don’t have jurisdiction over [that many] different spaces at the university.

“We 100 per cent respect the work they’ve put into their club, community and the services that they provide to students,” Szocs said. 

Szocs said the goal for UMSU in these renovations is to provide more clubs with an opportunity to use the spaces to gather and meet.

“We want to provide as many student clubs on campus as possible with the opportunity to have access to an office space.”