BY MEREDITH WATHNE
Renovation plans for the Comstock Memorial Union were presented last Tuesday to various student groups and CMU staff as part of the first site visit from Workshop Architects, Inc. Designers also led focus groups with attendees after the proposal to hear feedback and suggestions on the potential design.
The MnSCU office, allowing MSUM to forge ahead with layout details, recently approved the $8.5 million dollar renovation plan. So far, $4.5 million has been accrued over the last 10 years from student fees and other revenue from services like Subs and Sweets, the C-Store and rent from Affinity Plus.
“Students kind of own the building in a sense,” said Layne Anderson, interim director of the CMU. “(Students) support the building and student needs.”
In the spring of 2015, MSUM will vie for the remaining $4 million needed at a bond sale. The outstanding funds must be acquired before construction can begin.
Because the CMU is essentially its own entity, it functions off its own budget. The money used for renovations could not be used to assist the school in the budget crisis and is in no way a financial burden to the already depleted funds.
CMU staff met with a design-planning group of roughly 25 students in spring 2012 to get initial input as to what amenities students want in a union like wireless access, plugins and inviting community spaces. Anderson referred to the CMU as a student’s “third space,” or a place to get away from home and the classroom to rejuvenate.
“We need to create a space that meets the current needs of students,” Anderson said, “and predicts the future needs of students.”
The last programing for building space utilization was done in the late ‘80s, with renovations completed in ’91, so décor and design concepts are out of date. New layout models feature the top shared priorities mentioned during the 2012 student focus groups, which were daylight, a coffee house, welcoming entry, social space and a fire place.
“If you look around things are very outdated, and they are not set up in a manner that promotes engagement between all of the different groups,” said Kevin Struxness, Student Senate president.
The redesign will salvage as much as possible to help save resources, but the plans do include an addition on the southwest side of the building, featuring multiple windows to make the space more inviting to passing students. Everything will be open and flowing, and all of the current plans are obtainable within the given budget.
If the remaining $4 million is picked up at the bond sale, ground breaking will take place in April or May of 2015, with construction completed by early 2017.
“I think the student body is going to go through some tough times during the renovation,” Struxness said. “But the long-term goal and plans are just beautiful and are going to promote that area that you want to hang out in.”
Team members from Workshop Architects, Inc. will be back on campus March 10-11 with revised plans including the feedback given in the focus groups on Feb. 4. The final layout plans will be presented on April 28-29.
“To be successful you need to feel connected to the institution,” Anderson said. “The CMU provides a space where people can make that connection.”