YourUnion host open forum to inform students, answer questions

Evert Nelson | Collegian Jianlong Lin, freshman international student, listens to an open forum hosted by the YourUnion campaign in the Little Theatre on Thursday. The forum gave students an opportunity to voice their concerns about the proposed K-State Student Union renovation that would raise student privilege fees by $20.

In its first official week, the YourUnion campaign held an open forum Thursday night in the K-State Student Union’s Little Theatre. There, students listened to the plans and proposal for the more than $20 million Union renovation and asked their own questions.

“I had my reservations,” said Staci Horton, graduate student in the College of Education, about why she attended the forum.

According to Brett Seidl, a junior in public relations and co-campaign chair, plans and discussions have been going on for the last ten months.

“The purpose of the last 10 months has been to create a template to present to students,” Seidl said. “But if this passes, we’ll really hammer out the details. You’ll probably see a lot more details coming in the next year.”

Chelsea Gerber, junior in public relations and co-campaign chair, also went over some finer aspects of the plan. For example, on the east side expansion, more retail options and dining will be added as well as more general-use areas for students, such as a possible balcony.

“This is a building that students can leave their mark on, like Hale Library or the Recreation Center,” Gerber said.

Seidl also claimed that, should the Union be renovated to increase retail and dining options, students will be able to pay off the Union debts without raising tuition.

“The university and SGA went back and forth on the $20 increase,” Seidl said. “We felt that $20 was a reasonable amount and it actually will cover a lot of the construction fees that will go into the plan.”

However, the student privilege fee will not be the only source of funds for the $25 million project.

“That $25 million number takes into account of enrollment increases,” said Bill Smriga, executive director for the Union. “There are also other resources like Union bonds from when it was first built, and the intent is to roll those bonds into the Union funding. Outside sources will also be asked, such as partners of the Union who will step up and help.”

However, there has also been talk of using inside resources, such as construction students and professors.

“We’ve heard a lot of input from people who want to help,” Gerber said. “From the booths we’ve had all week in the Union and social media, all the feedback has been positive. Everyone just has so much pride in their school.”

A 60 percent majority of K-State students must vote for the proposal in order to pass it. If it does pass, the Union will hold more surveys and focus groups to determine the final details of the master plan. Afterward, a master architect will join the project.

“The Union serves every student,” Gerber said. “So we have to talk to every student and meet everyone’s needs.”

As for the cost, Seidl was confident the project would not significantly increase student fees. According to Seidl, the $20 will be a flat rate applied every semester to students of the Manhattan campus who are taking nine or more credit hours. The plan will not affect those who live on the Salina campus.

“You have to balance the fact of rising tuition and how much we can charge,” Seidl said. “It’s a fine line. But we have more to pay off than ever before.”

However, despite positive feedback, some students are still skeptical.

“I’ve been through a lot of different situations like this, where they ask you to raise the tax or something,” Horton said. “But they might not say for how long they will keep these fees up. So they might keep the extra $20 added onto our student privilege fees, even after the project is done.”

Others question the proposed design of the Union, which features an east-side entrance encased in glass.

“I think we should renovate,” said Evelyn Chokkattu, sophomore in architecture. “But where’s the limestone? It doesn’t feel as homey. It looks more like an office building. I feel like we’d be losing a part of the campus style.”

Voting for the project will begin April 10 and end April 11. In the meantime, Seidl and Gerber plan on talking to individual students and student groups.