July 31, 2002
It's the university's geographic and social center. Every week it hosts dozens of meetings and thousands of diners and shoppers. It houses myriad student organizations and administrative offices. Its central presence impacts virtually every faculty member, staffer and student on the uptown campus. And it's disappearing.
In January 2004, the University Center will shutter its doors for 24 months to undergo a major renovation and expansion. Among the project's most dramatic components are adding a third floor to the building's east half, enclosing the second-floor patio adjacent to the Kendall Cram Room and installing a series of canopies and windows to the building's exterior.
According to associate vice president of auxiliary services Rob Hailey, who is overseeing the project, the UC will be stripped down to a shell and completely rebuilt.
"The building is over 40 years old," Hailey says. "We definitely got our use out of it, but it's time to redo it. It was built for a student body half the size of what we have today."
The project, which will cost approximately $37 million, will increase the UC's space by 40,000 square feet. The Minneapolis firm of Vincent James Associates designed the renovations. "We are maxed out on the number of meetings that go on in that building," Hailey says of the UC's current usage. "It's amazing the turnover we do in those rooms, so we're going to significantly add to our meeting room and conference room space."
To accomplish that, administrative offices currently on the second floor will be moved to the third floor, enabling the center to devote the entire floor to meeting rooms. Another new feature will be a third-floor dining area overlooking Pocket Park. By day the dining room will replace the current faculty and staff dining room, but in the evening it will become something new: a full-service restaurant.
"One of the things that students have been telling us in surveys is that they'd like a sit-down restaurant on campus," Hailey says. "We'd have an option where people could sit down and order off a nice menu, have a view of Pocket Park and relax. It would be an upscale type of food service."
And last but not least, McAlister Drive pedestrians will no longer be forced to contend with the sight and smell of trash containers. Garbage collection and service calls will be handled on the opposite side of the building. The basement and first floors of the new center will continue to house their current mix of occupants--student organizations and the Rathskeller in the basement, and the bookstore, dining facilities, and auxiliary services such as the bank, travel center and computer store on the first floor.
In the new layout, the bookstore will be reconfigured to extend across the back of Pocket Park. While who goes where when the UC reopens in January 2006 is mostly decided, where those tenants will go in the interim is a work in progress.
Hailey and UC director Leland Bennett are currently working to identify space on campus to move offices and organizations displaced by the renovation. Trailers and temporary structures may be called into service to house dining facilities and auxiliary services.
Drill Road, for example, may be converted into a pedestrian mall lined with trailers housing the bank and travel center, and Bruff quad may house a climate-controlled temporary dining hall. The changes to accommodate the renovation, which Hailey hopes to have finalized in the next six weeks, may involve some compromises, but Hailey says the result will justify the hardship.
"It's going to be a hassle," Hailey says. "There's no doubt it's going to be a hassle. But we've got to get people to understand that the inconvenience is going to be worth the return we get out of this."
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