Union director highlights features of renovations

photo rendering courtesy of Ayers Saint Gross architects This photo rendering depicts the proposed expansion of the East side entrance of the K-State Student Union.

For the past several months, students, teachers and faculty have been trying to reimagine the K-State Student Union. Now that the Your Union campaign has launched and the master plan for design has been discussed, the proposed new features of the Union have finally been cemented.

“We’re going to renovate and redesign most of the entire building,” said Bill Smriga, director of the Union. “It’s significant in that each floor of the Union will be touched, though some will have more extensive renovation than others.”

If the referendum to begin renovating the Union in 2014 passes next month, construction will begin on the Union in phases. The building will be kept open while work is done on isolated parts, one phase at a time.

“What we’re going to do is localize the construction and keep the building open, doing the renovation in phases,” Smriga said. “It’s challenging to do it that way, but it’s also a typical plan.”

Starting from the bottom, the Union’s ground floor courtyard area will be remodeled, which was something that students had asked for directly.

“Several priorities emerged from surveys taken by interest groups among campus,” Smriga said. “A priority was to make the Union actually feel like a place to hang out. We want to upgrade the recreation area, and make it more inviting to students. The courtyard will take on a new appearance. Right now it’s a bit of a cold, dark place. We want to make the space a bit warmer.”

Follett, the new bookstore company that K-State will use in the Union instead of Varney’s, will likely restructure how the current bookstore looks, Smriga said.

Student input was an integral aspect of the suggestions given to architects for Union remodeling, and another main priority was space for student organizations.

“There was a need for increased student organization space. The Union severely lacks organization space,” Smriga said. “The groups that are housed in the Union are scattered throughout the building; they’re all over. They need to be relocated to one area to work together and make them easier to find. It makes sense to consolidate student organizations in one place.”

Plans are in the works to put all student organization offices, from multicultural affairs to the radio station, in the same area on the ground floor. This would allow the spaces on the Union first floor to be open to retail, helping to pay for the cost of the initiative.

While retail remains an important part of Union income, it is not as important as the students, according to Smriga.

“We’re not funded by the university or the state. Our largest source of income is student fees, which makes up 20-25 percent of our revenue,” Smriga said.

Even though the cost to students for the Union renovation is set at $20 next semester and for subsequent semesters until the project is completed, should the referendum pass that cost could go down if K-State friends and supporters decide to chip in.

“Companies that partner with the Union and alumni can donate, which would cut the costs for students,” said Brett Seidl, co-chair of the Your Union campaign and junior in journalism and mass communications. “It would take no more than 30 years to pay off the bonds.”

Students would see the main result of their money on the Union’s first floor, which houses the food court area, Caribou Coffee and Cat’s Den convenience store.

“It’s hard to think about what won’t change,” Smriga said. “The food service area is stretched to the max during lunch times, and it’s really an old model. This sort of mall food court style of serving isn’t the most attractive set up.”

Fixing that problem means changing the entire layout of the first floor.

“The food area would have a completely different look after renovations,” Smriga said. “There will likely be new food options, but we will always look for options that interest students, and we’ll keep students in the decision-making process for that.”

The Union’s second and third floors will feature an expansion of the administration and business offices and a more consolidated space for the Union Program Council. The Grand Ballroom and Big 12 Room will both be renovated and made more aesthetically pleasing, another aspect considered important by students and staff.

“The Union renovations will help with increasing our enrollment,” said Emilie Patterson, secretary of the Union Corporation Board and senior in food science and industry. “Students will see the time and money we’ve put into making K-State look great. We take pride in what our campus looks like.”

As far as a time scale, it may be a while before students can reap the benefits. Even so, the referendum is still up to a vote. Students will be able to vote on the Union renovations on April 10 and 11.

“Of course, even choosing an architect and design plan could take six to nine months,” Smriga said. “I most look forward to the final result and the excitement that will be generated from that final project.”