Students hope to add Union improvement referendum to ballot
Feb. 14, 2006
To move forward with plans to renovate and improve the Memorial Union and Union South, Wisconsin Union Directorate students are spearheading an effort to collect signatures to get a referendum on the spring Associated Students of Madison ballot.
The referendum would ask students to contribute $96 in increased segregated fees per semester for 30 years.
An artist's rendering of a view of a pedestrian walkway/bike path linking a south campus union with the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery across Johnson Street.
Courtesy: Ayers Saint Gross
An artist's rendering of an aerial view of a new South Campus Union, featuring the marching band during a typical pre-football game Badger Bash on the green space south of the building.
Courtesy: Ayers Saint Gross
“To make (the Wisconsin Union Facilities Improvement Plan) happen, part of the financing of the project must come from a one-time increase in segregated fees,” says Janell Wise, Wisconsin Union Directorate president. “Memorial Union was made possible because students gave money to support its construction, and we’re hoping that current students will carry on that tradition by showing their support for improving Memorial and building a new south campus union that will adequately suit our growing needs. This segregated fee increase must be passed by referendum during the spring ASM election, and to raise awareness and secure a place on the ballot, WUD members are initiating this signature drive and public information campaign to reach out to other students.”
The Wisconsin Union Facilities Improvement Plan (WUFIP) is the initial feasibility strategy to help determine what shape the Wisconsin Union facilities — Memorial Union and Union South — will take during the next 20-25 years. Students need to collect about 2,000 signatures by March 1. If the referendum is put on the ballot, students would vote online March 28-30.
“While Memorial Union was indeed a shining jewel when it opened in 1928 and Union South was considered state of the art 30 years ago, that is unfortunately no longer the case,” says Mark Guthier, Wisconsin Union director. “The thousands of programs and millions of patrons have slowly taken their toll over the years. It is unrealistic to expect that they can continue to support this level of usage, especially since that demand is increasing. There are many issues we need to address promptly, such as ADA accessibility, electronic infrastructure and heating/air conditioning. Space is another concern. We had to deny 1,300 requests for meeting space by student groups last year.
“Rather than addressing these issues piecemeal, we are developing this master plan,” he adds. “But we need input from our stakeholders, particularly students, to ensure we’re addressing their needs while involving them in the design at every step to guarantee future students will have the state-of-the-art facilities they deserve. Our ultimate goal is to develop a renewed sense of community at the heart of campus.”
In a nutshell, WUFIP aims to renovate Memorial Union while preserving its historical ambience. Another part of the plan is a proposal to build a new south campus union.
“While students want to retain the nature of Memorial Union, we heard the opposite about Union South,” says Wise. “Union South is currently only used by an estimated 15 percent of students who are not enamored by the architecture nor available space. Instead of extensively renovating Union South — which would rival the cost of new construction — we hope to build a new south campus union. Current students, much like the students who were instrumental in building Memorial, will have an exciting opportunity to envision an enduring Union that meets the growing needs of our campus. Our vision for a new south campus union is a durable, sustainable ‘green’ building, becoming one of the first LEED (Leadership and Environment Energy Design)-rated student unions in the country.”
Wisconsin Union Directorate representatives developed WUFIP with Union administrators based on extensive surveys, focus groups and committees composed of students, faculty, staff, Union members, and community members, as well as market research and architectural consultants. The effort began in August.
“We had to develop enough of a plan to be able to estimate a cost,” says Guthier. “Many aspects and details have not yet been decided. Current and future student input will be key to creating facilities that meet their needs and those of students to come.”
Private gifts and operating revenues would fund subsequent parts of the plan, while student segregated fees would fund the initial phases of the project: building a new south campus union and renovating the theater wing of Memorial Union to make the building more accessible.
Faculty and staff can help the effort by encouraging students to sign the petition and learn more about the proposed changes by visiting http://www.union.wisc.edu/wufip.
Ideas for the Wisconsin Union Facilities Improvement Plan
Some of the issues that have been taken into consideration for the Memorial Union are a desire to preserve the building as a campus landmark, to increase student activity space, to preserve the role of the Union Theater, to improve working conditions and to restore historic spaces.
Possible changes to the Memorial Union include:
- a Hoofers expansion, with an increased lakefront presence, improved program and activity space and new piers;
- a lakeview lounge, with a new study lounge and event space and an expanded upper-level terrace;
- outdoor amenities, such as rest rooms, food pavilions and a new stage;
- lakeshore and terrace improvements;
- a new, accessible entrance on Langdon Street and improved service access; and
- a proper terminus to the east campus mall at Lake Mendota.
Surveys also found that students sometimes felt that Union South was “cold, sterile and uninviting,” according to the Union’s Web site. Also, planners found that the building is too small to meet the growing demand, and the structure and site aren’t suited for expansion. Goals for a new south campus union include the creation of an enduring campus center with its own identity and a new campus green space that could be a gateway to the south campus. Planners also hope to create a “green building” that would be the university’s first LEED-rated example of sustainable design.
Ideas for a new south campus union include:
- an urban center providing entertainment, recreation and food, including a sports pub, coffee house and climbing wall;
- a home for Student Orientation, Advising and Registration to create positive first impressions for prospective students;
- a large events space for student dances or conferences;
- an auditorium with 400-550 seats;
- a lounge space with a skyline view; and
- consolidated campus guest rooms.