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Early Plans for the Student Union Renovation/Expansion

We need a new Student Union pretty badly.

We just do. There's really no other way of saying it. The present building is too old and too small for our needs. Everybody knows it.

Fortunately, FAU has been working on the Student Union renovation and expansion proposal for quite some time. Administrative officials met with student groups and asked for input as to what they'd want in an idealized Student Union - as they should have - and then released a draft for review detailing some of the findings. Being that it's 68 pages long, I thought you might just prefer to hear the highlights intertwined with personal anecdotes from over the years.

Opening as the University Center in 1973, the Student Union underwent no less than five different renovations over the years, the last being in 2002 at a cost of $6.9M (which I believe is when they added the Centre Marketplace and the building with the Senate Chambers). The various renovations have added paint, new furniture, mounted televisions, reconfigured rooms and updated infrastructure. That is to say, they were mostly cosmetic changes. The space needs are still an issue to the point where certain ideas - like moving the student media offices around or changing the Grand Palm to a dedicated game space - were shot down because they couldn't give up valuable meeting space for clubs.

But even if FAU did go ahead with all of those ideas, the Union would still be in a weird place on campus. See, the location has also been a bit of an issue for people. For instance, one of the reasons the "University Center" was renamed to the "Student Union" was because the building wasn't truly at the university's center. This has made it difficult to attract more students here especially when they're "all the way over by GS or Business East" and "don't want to walk all the way over there."

Seriously. It's really not that far but for people who already have NightOwls take them from HPT to the Cafe - and yes, that happens a lot more than you'd think - it was too far to walk, especially since there weren't too many legitimate reasons to make the hike.

Walk over so you can… watch TV? Eat at Coyote Jacks (now Burrow Bar & Grill)? Get a scantron from SG?

The fact is, people were already socializing in the Breezeway so you didn't need to walk over to the Student Union to socialize. Most schools don't have Breezeways, which thus places increased importance on the Student Union on their respective campuses. And even if FAU instituted a policy stating that all tabling had to be done in the Union (as if there was space for that) it would only hurt the clubs since you don't table where you want the people to go, you table where the people already are.

Furthermore, we had spread a lot of essential services elsewhere. when they are really all supposed to be tied to the Union itself. In our case, the main food court lies at the south end of the Breezeway, along with the bookstore, Starbucks, health services and banking. Those are the big pulls to a Student Union. By placing all this where the people were instead of where we wanted them, we had already created an informal "Student Union" at the south end of the Breezeway.

See the problem? It's not just a facility change, it's a whole culture change that we'd need too.

Realizing these concerns, FAU flirted with the idea of building a Student Union in a more centralized campus location. They hired architecture firm Leo Daly who proposed a really awesome idea that would have taken over the present Williams Administration building as the new Student Union. The Administration would then move south to the SO building.

There were three main issues with the Williams/Student Union proposal. The most difficult obstacle was a $50M+ price tag. Shy of a new Capital Campaign, that was extremely unlikely to happen especially since the funding for these kinds of projects for the state legislature has been hard to come by… and the last time it did, we chose to build the new Rec Center instead.

The second issue with the proposal was minor and thus more manageable: as Student Unions are focal points for student meetings and rallies, there was the potential issue of having loud noises in the academic core (as you know, the Williams Admin building is encircled by four academic buildings). That said, I think if FAU had the money it would have gone forward with this idea regardless.

The third issue was food vendors. What we needed in a new Student Union was a Breezeway-style food court. That way, you have a steady stream of people coming through the Union every day. only problem is, we already have a Breezeway-style food court a short walk away from the Admin building site and Chartwells spent too much money on it to give up on it. Could we have two Breezeway-style food courts? We could if we had 50k students. At 30K, I'm not sure.

Okay, so the Admin site is off the table for now. That brings us back to the current location. What can we do there?

FAU had commissioned a design study for that as well back in 2004. The Gonq would have become the new Rec Center, Diversity Way would have become connected to the Breezeway, the Engineering yard on the south side would have been the new 2-story bookstore and the Student Services building would have become connected to it to form a whole complex. Honestly, if you were sticking with the current Union that was probably not a bad idea (except for extending the Breezeway, which is always a bad idea)

That didn't happen, obviously, and the newer proposal seems to move away from an eastward expansion and focus more on a northern expansion. This makes a lot of sense since we could theoretically build it out all the way to Parking Garage I (over phases) and that would give us ample programming space. Yes, it would eat up the Outdoor Stage Area but apparently that's used very sparingly and the uses could be accommodated elsewhere on campus.

The Expansion would include:

- 12,000-24,000 sq ft banquet space. Especially good for meetings involving more than 150 people and would have divider walls to break down into 4 smaller rooms.

- 6,000 sq ft student media complex. Basically OwlTV, OwlRadio and the UP would all relocate to larger spaces in an integrated complex and have 24 hour access via Owl Card. From FAU:

- 4,500 sq ft Campus Ministry Space and Interfaith Chapel. This space would be heavily utilized particularly by the new Interfaith Programming Council.

- 4,000 sq ft of retail space including food vendors. Possible 2-3 branded dining concepts. No specific brands named in the proposal, sorry.

- 3,000 sq ft computer lab (open 24 hours).

- 800 seat performing arts audiotirum with Fly-Loft. The idea here is that even though the Barry Kaye can seat 2,385, the lack of fly loft prevents them from renting it out for theatrical performances. Also, the existing theater on the other side of campus only holds 400 people, apparently, so this could accommodate a number of uses.

- Option: move SG Offices into an independent structure with 24 hr access.

- Option: classroom space with smart technology.

The Renovation of the existing space would include:

- A new, dedicated Games Room would take over the Grand Palm Room. 8 video game system/TV setups, 6 games tables (for dominoes, board games, etc), 3 pool tables, 3 ping pong tables and "soft seating."

- Reorganized student club space. In particular, it points out that since OwlTV would move to the new addition as part of the Student Media Complex, that space would be freed up for other organizations. SGA, Greek Life and other Student Affairs offices could take over the spots vacated by the UP and OwlRadio.

- Renovations to the Barry Kaye Auditorium. Different versions of this idea exist, the most expensive being to replace seatings, include balconies and a fly-loft, update the stage and sound system. The space is 25 years old now! Wow.

- Painting and bathroom renovations.

- The lobby renovation would allow for the possibility of a tiled floor with an FAU logo in the center or a permanent owl statue there.

The new Union would be ~117k sq ft. The proposed cost would be ~$6.4M for the existing Student Union 1st and 2nd floor additions and ~$10.5M for the new addition. The process would take approximately 2.5 years from design to completion of construction.

Here's the overall idea (from the same FAU document):

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The bad news is, as you can probably guess, we didn't get the money we requested so it may be another couple years before we can do this. But I thought it was still worth bringing up to show you where FAU's head it at when they do get the money… provided the idea doesn't change again by then.

In the next entry I'll talk about my wish list for this renovation... stay tuned!