Yesterday afternoon, in an open forum, students got the chance to voice their opinions for the K-State Student Union renovation project, which is currently undergoing the research phase. The Student Government Association contracted Workshop Architects, based out of Milwaukee, Wis. in September, and the company visited campus yesterday for the second time.
During their first visit to K-State in October, the Workshop Architects gathered student input by meeting with selected student groups and randomly asking students on campus what they would like to see in their new Union. They also polled around 2,300 students in an online poll to gather more data. They found that students would like a local or unique restaurant, more public lounging and study spaces, a sports bar or pub and a larger coffee shop. Among these improvements, Workshop Architects is seeking to incorporate the family feel into the new Union.
“When we interviewed students, there was a prevalent family ethos,” Jan van den Kieboom, owner of Workshop Architects, said. “Never before had we seen that word used so much. We’d like to incorporate that into the Union. Some have called unions the living room of campus, but we’d really like to make this union the family room.”
While touring campus and collecting data, van den Kieboom and his team found that most students saw the building as a “transactional” space, where students come and go to get something and leave. Van den Kieboom and his team would like to create a new space that connects all students in whatever activity they are doing.
“You want to create an intentional texture and warmth,” van den Kieboom said. “It’s not going to be white-celing tiles like you see in other buildings.”
In order to create this warm atmosphere, van den Kieboom said he plans to incorporate more natural lighting and windows that not only provide natural lighting, but can also connect students to what is happening outside. In addition, van den Kieboom suggested that meeting rooms and group spaces be more open, with transparent windows and that the union display more student groups, like SGA and Greek Affairs, so students feel more connected to campus groups.
However, van den Kieboom said space is one serious issue with the Union. After touring many universities’ unions, van den Kieboom and his team found that the national average of square footage per student is around 12-15 square feet. K-State’s union only has about 10.85 square feet per student.
“Since the Union is so small, we need to find a way to make the most out of the space,” van den Kieboom said. “The student population has grown about 25 percent since 1980, but the building hasn’t.”
As such, van den Kieboom said that while individual space for each group on campus would be nice, there is no feasible way to fit all 475 campus groups. Instead, he offered different strategies for campus groups. One option would be to have rooms available to check out, much like the process right now, but storage spaces would also be available, since he and his team have found that many groups use the meeting spaces in the Union as storage areas.
Van den Kieboom also suggested that all lounging, study and meeting spaces will be more collaborative and technology will be a larger part of the design, as it is so important to students.
Among the plans for study and lounging spots, van den Kieboom said that improving the dining experience is key not only for students’ attitudes about the Union, but also as a way to support itself. Van den Kieboom gave an example of one union that had a restaurant that used local produce for their foods. Kaley Oldani, graduate student in civil engineering and water resources, said she thought this was an appealing option.
“We’re an agriculture school, so that’s very important,” Oldani said. “I think this will help create a more resilient local community too.”
One concern among students was the outside appearance of the new union. Stacie Anderson, junior in animal sciences and industry, said she preferred the look of Hale Library, with its limestone, over the Union’s current design.
“I think the Union needs to be more homey,” Anderson said. “Whenever I’m on campus, I go to the library because it gives off this sense of academia. It’s too much work to find that here at the Union.”
Van den Kieboom said that they will mostly be focusing on the interior of the building, though the option for a new entryway is still being debated. If this option becomes a reality, van den Kieboom said it is possible to incorporate the limestone.
The process is still in the research phase. Van den Kieboom presented only the preliminary results of surveys and plans to present more in-depth information later on his third visit, around Dec. 3 or 4. Van den Kieboom said he plans to come back in January to present some more concrete designs. Final design options will be available in March 2014.
“Each time we come back, we come with a more refined plan,” Van den Kieboom said.