University Center Slated For Dramatic Overhaul

January 26, 2003

Justin Fox, <i>Hullabaloo</i> Contributing Writer

Beginning in the summer of 2003 all organizations and services in the University Center will relocate to temporary quarters as renovations to the more than 40-year-old building commence. The University Center, a 116,000-square foot building, was designed in 1958 to serve nearly half as many students as currently attend Tulane.

Based on consultations with Vincent James Associates, the Minneapolis architecture firm that created the award-winning plans for the renovated UC, it is still structurally sound. Its space, however, has been exhausted. Beside the need for space maximization, the overall aesthetic of the building was also a factor behind the decision to renovate the University Center.

The proposed design took these concerns into account, creating a much more open space inspired by traditional New Orleans architecture. Large floor-to-ceiling windows and doors will replace the solid walls along the first level. Martha Sullivan, Tulane's vice president for student affairs, said the new University Center will be "an open building during the months when it's cool enough."

Emphasis on bringing the outside in will also be echoed in an outdoor seating area on the second level adjacent to the dining area. An overhang above the patio outside the Kendall Cram Room is also planned, allowing for larger numbers of people to attend events as well as the possibility of outdoor dining regardless of weather conditions. Above all, though, space is still the main concern. According to Sullivan, the renovation will increase the total area of the UC by 41,000 square feet, to 157,000 square feet.

Meeting space will double, and the bookstore will extend through the back of Pocket Park nearly up to the back wall of Fogleman Arena. The food service area of the building will remain basically the same size. However Sullivan points out that there will be "elements of surprise" in the overall look of the space. Plans call for opening up the office space along McAlister Drive and transforming it into a study lounge/computer lab, which Sullivan hopes to see "filled with people."

A light-permeable canopy placed between the first and second levels will surround the exterior of the UC and extend over a portion of Pocket Park in an effort to provide shaded but not totally dark spaces that would dramatically cut energy costs.

"It's not a totally green building," Sullivan said, "but it is a building which will be much easier to operate much less expensively because of all the principles of shading."

Plans also include moving the ever-fragrant loading dock to the back of the building and possibly including a campus police station. Although not set in stone, student program offices are likely to be located on the ground floor, with the WTUL station located at the corner of the building that faces both McAlister Drive and the University Center Quad, so activity in the building will be visible 24 hours a day. The goal is to create an around-the clock, convenient area on campus that incorporates both expanded meeting space and enhanced aesthetics.

The estimated cost for the renovation of the University Center, expected to be completed in 2006, is $37 million. Despite the administrations enthusiasm for this project, many students are either unaware that renovations are planned or skeptical of what they see as a looming inconvenience.

Brian West, the USG vice president for finance, admits, "The space they've projected for [student] organizations after the renovations are completed is quite nice. I'm concerned that a lot of the organizations in the UC aren't aware that they're supposed to prepare to move."

West is also concerned about the temporary placement of offices and meeting spaces, hoping that they will be put collectively together so as not to break up the vortex of student life." Sources involved with other organizations whose offices are located on the lower level of the UC declined comment, citing lack of familiarity with the proposed renovations.

Robert C. Hailey, Tulane's associate vice president for auxiliary services and student centers, said that plans for the relocation of offices and services during the renovation, as well as the final design of the building, will be finalized in the next two to three weeks. Hailey did assure that his office is "trying to cluster student programming groups on campus."

As far as food services offered at the University Center are concerned, they will more than likely be centered in Bruff Quad "because it's a central community area" that is in close proximity to the Bruff Commons' kitchen. High-quality tent-like structures by Sprung Instant Structures will house the food service providers, while varied stands and vendors may be brought in to keep up with demand and offer variety.

"We can't try to replicate everything we've got going on now in a temporary location," Hailey said. "Were trying to set this up so it's convenient and comfortable."

Sullivan and Hailey will hold at least one open forum following the official adoption of renovation and relocation plans in order to familiarize the student body with the situation. When it's all over, Hailey believes that "well have a wonderful, beautiful building that I think will fit all our needs."

Tulane University, New Orleans, LA 70118 504-865-5000