The ongoing Memorial Union expansion process for the future plans for the building raises a lot of advantages and disadvantages to improve student social life.
UND has been discussing the renovation plans of the Union since Fall 2015. The WTW Architects, who are based in Pittsburgh are working with Memorial Union faculty about different ways the building can be improved. The UND Steering Committee and Student Senate has been gathering feedback from the architects, on layouts for a potential renovation.
Student Body President Brandon Beyer has said some of the differences between UNDs Union and other student unions across the country. Currently at UND, there aren’t that dining options compared to other universities student unions. Beyer said there isn’t a large emphasis on social activities for students.
“I would just like to see a space that is dedicated to the social and community aspects of your college experience,” Beyer said. “I think sometimes unions get paired into this notion that they should be academic buildings as well and that they should have study spaces or small work areas.”
“Going out of the Union and what we’ve seen across the nation is that it really needs to focus on the community and societal aspects your college experience,” he said.
Student and staff accessibility to the union would depend on how the renovation is phased. The two renovation options are a total renovation and a phased renovation. A full renovation means the entire union will be inaccessible to students. A phased renovation would be broken down into many steps, and would focus on one area at a time.
This April in the Student Government Elections, all UND students will have the opportunity to vote on if they want the union to be expanded or not. The voting format will be Yes/No.
The three different options were put together by UND staff and WTW architects. The first option is addressing the issue of the deferred maintenance which will cost $24 million. The second option is doing a renovation of the union which will expand onto McCannel Hall. The cost of doing a renovation is $92 million. The third option is knocking down areas of the existing union, and constructing a brand new union in the same location which will cost $132 million.
“Currently, there is a shortage of space in the rooms on the second floor,” Memorial Union Executive Planner Cheryl Grew-Gillen said. “There isn’t enough meeting room space currently for student organizations to meet. With an expansion, we can increase more square footage. There will need to be space for organizations to meet for extracurricular activities.”
In addition to more space for clubs and activities, extra space would not just benefit student organization space, but there can be more space spread out for students to study.
UND senior Ben Lindstrom shared his personal experiences with the union, and thinks having an expansion would be beneficial.
“There are times when I come to the union, and there aren’t any open spots for me to study.” Lindstrom said.
Another pro of having an expanded union is there can be more excitement to the university. Beyer said he is hoping the future Union gets a lot of school spirit and lives up to its phrase “The Heart of UND” Beyer said that there isn’t much as an emphasis on social gathering spaces.
“I would just like to see a space that is dedicated to the social and community aspects of your collegiate experience,” Beyer said. I think sometimes unions get this notion that they should be academic buildings
“I want to see after the renovation is complete, there is a more energetic feeling to the building and the university. I hope there will be renewed spirit to the building that should be the heart of their experience with the university,” he said. “I would hope someday those students would look at a new building and have pride in the building, and it will be a good place to interact with other people.”
A different benefit of having an expanded union is more student employment opportunities. This means there can be different businesses such as retail and franchise dining involved for student of companies that aren’t run by the university, meaning there can be many different options for students to choose from who are looking for part time jobs.
“This Spring we will have a vote for students on whether or not they want the union expanded or not,” Grew Gillen said. “It will come down to if they want part of their college tuition to go into the project.”
“We’re going through a lot of budget cuts right now, and I think it would be a waste of money to be focusing on the union expansion issue.” UND student Sean Mitchell said.
The reconstruction period of the union is another con of the expansion. “It necessitates that we have to bring certain services that are typically housed into this building, and move them somewhere else on campus so those services aren’t hindered,” Beyer said. “That makes it difficult for students who want to access them.”
He later added that it would depend on the layout to determine how long the services would be inaccessible for students.
In February, UND decided to close Terrace Dining Center due to low student usage rates this year in order to save money. Terrace Dining Center is located on the lower level of the union, which is another con of the union project.
“Since we will be closing Terrace due to the amount of money at the end of this year, I feel like expanding onto the union wouldn’t be worth it.” UND student Derek Larson said.
A proposed layout draft from the WTW Architects visit in November 2016 of a brand new Memorial Union.
A proposed layout draft from the WTW Architects visit in October 2016. If the expansion happens, McCannel Hall would be combined with the Memorial Union which would mean adding more services for students through the new addition.