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New union planned to support growth, add services

University Union,2011

First there was the state-of-the-art Life Sciences Complex in 2010, then the new Apogee Stadium and  the Business Leadership Building and parking garage this fall. Impressive and innovative new facilities have opened on campus in the past two years in support of UNT’s strategic goal to maintain student focused academics and campus experiences. 

Next in line is a student union, which, like its new building brethren, is needed to meet the needs of UNT’s growing population.

Stefanie RitzStefanie Ritz, left, assistant director of assessment, marketing and planning for the University Union, said that replacement discussions began more than two years ago, but the slow economy and construction-in-progress delayed the project. Now, however, it’s time for the next step in campus expansion – a new university union.

The current union was built in 1964 and expanded in 1976, and was built to serve a population of 17,000 students. Today, as UNT’s enrollment moves closer to 40,000, the aging building is becoming cramped, and needs infrastructure upgrades in heating, air conditioning and sustainability features.

Providing student-focused services, just at UNT provides student-focused academic programs, and environmentally friendly construction, is the crux of the university’s strategic plan.

A new union is preferable to remodeling, said Ritz. “A new renovated and expanded union is preferable to just remodeling the current structures.”

Komatsu Architects of Dallas was hired to assess the building and collect preliminary information about the needs for a student community approaching 40,000.  The architects also recommended a new union rather than renovation and expansion of the current facility.

To learn more and monitor the needs of students, a University Union Master Plan team, made up of student representatives plus  faculty and staff, meets regularly. Focus groups, surveys and bench mark comparisons have given the committee ideas and insight into what’s needed.

“The students’ input in invaluable,” said union director Zane Reif. “We want students to be involved. We want this to be their vision, their dream.” That’s why the majority membership of the University Union Master Plan team is students. 

Students will vote on funding in 2012, but won’t pay additional fees until the union is finished, likely in 2016-2017. The process will work much like funding for Apogee Stadium. A student vote approved a fee of $10 per semester credit hour for the stadium in 2008, but was not assessed until the stadium opened. 

Past research has revealed enthusiasm and support for the project. “Forty-eight percent of those surveyed said, ‘This is very important to me,’” said Ritz. “Fifteen or 20 percent said they needed more information. So we think this is something the students will appreciate.”

Planned amenities will be:

  • New, state-of-the-art sustainable building practices throughout each element of the building infrastructure.
  • New and upgraded heating and air conditioning and plumbing
  • New technology, including expanded Wi-Fi access and upgraded audio-visual equipment
  • Expanded dining options based on student requests
  • Larger, more secure lounge and study spaces
  • Expanded meeting areas for study groups and academic gatherings
  • Increased space for student organizations, expanded storage areas and office space for student activities
  • Décor that includes more visible representation of Eagle spirit and tradition

No program or service will be disrupted during a renovation/expansion. The master plan committee and the architects will decide on what is the best option for UNT in order to continue to deliver outstanding services to our campus, especially to our students, but still allows for us to be good stewards of our resources including time and money, said Ritz.

A union is a legacy, said Ritz. “You’re here for your degree, but you’re also here for the future.” The new union aims to be welcoming, homey and to provide a place where students can hang out, study or enjoy coffee and meals, and remember it as part of their college experience.

Ritz points out that every new student and faculty and staff member visits the union when touring the campus, so it contributes to their first impression and helps sell the campus. She believes a new union will contribute to the university’s efforts to attract nationally recognized faculty and staff, and to recruit students. – Brooke Nottingham, student assistant, University Relations, Communications and Marketing

(Photos by Jonathan Reynolds)

Posted on: Mon 10 October 2011

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