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Archive for Saturday, August 10, 2002

Union undergoes changes

August 10, 2002

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A bit of Old World charm is adding spice to a new era at the Kansas Union.

At 3 p.m. Thursdays, a steaming container of tea and a tray of treats are set out in the union's fourth-floor lobby for consumption by students, faculty or staff seeking casual conversation.

"Once a week, it's tea time," said David Johnston, the union's director of marketing services. "Why would you pass up a cookie?"

That charming tradition can't overshadow the high-stakes new world that Kansas University's student union will enter this fall.

David Mucci, director of the Kansas Union and a satellite facility, Burge Union, said a $6 million renovation and expansion of the Kansas Union should be mostly completed by the end of August. The project is financed by student fees.

The 17,500-square-foot addition provides new space for student organization offices, the campus bookstore, a coffee shop plaza and commercial businesses. The bowling alley  once slated for demolition  is undergoing renovation.

Responding to competition

The project allows construction of a walkway to connect the union's second level to a next-door parking garage. An underground tunnel from the Memorial Stadium parking lot to the union will be improved.

A more inviting entrance on the west side of the union along Memorial Drive will be the most visible change.

"It actually begins to look like a front door," Mucci said. "The other was kind of a seedy, less-than-presentable entrance."

The renovation is the union's response to increased competition from off-campus businesses. Foot traffic and sales at the unions dropped about 10 percent this past year. The construction project, which temporarily closed the west entrance, contributed to that business downturn. But increasing sophistication of Internet sites and the arrival of Borders in downtown Lawrence in 1997 also dealt a blow to the union's sales.

"With the new addition, there are some ... needs that immediately hit the bottom line," Mucci said.

He said the modernized, larger building would cost at least $100,000 more each year to operate, and a $250,000 increase in student fees is expected to cover that tab as well as rising costs of Student Union Activities programming fees.

More space, new locations

The first item set for completion is the new Hawk's Nest area on the first floor, near the Jaybowl. The space, scheduled to open this summer, will include a stage, seating for about 115 people and a small snack bar.

The old Hawk's Nest space will be converted to leased commercial space.

Student Union Activities will have themed programs each night of the week, such as open mike nights, poetry readings and sports nights.

"We hope it reaches out to everybody, one night a week at least," said Pat Beard, the union's director of building services.

The Jaybowl, which has been closed for a year, will undergo a minor facelift, including a new area for video games.

New computer stations in the Kansas Union make it easier for students to study. A large computer lab is located next to Alderson Auditorium. Also on the fourth floor, the Lawrence Journal-World is the main sponsor for a set of four computers that allows students quick access to e-mail or the Internet.

Before the fall semester, the Oread Bookshop will move from inside the KU Bookstore  where it's been since 1991  across the hall to a new location with 800 more square feet.

"We've always had more success when it's separate from the rest of the bookstore," said Mike Reid, KU Bookstore director. "One of our challenges is it's hidden in the corner of the store."

The bookshop's current location will be used to expand the store's technology products, such as software and computer supplies. Also, the store will reconfigure its space for Jayhawk merchandise.

New student office space should be complete by the end of this year or the first of next year. Organizations will have about 6,500 more square feet of offices, or 70 percent more than they have now.

This renovation follows a 14-year, $14.6 million series of renovations at the union. The last part of that work created a computer lab, a new food court dining area and the Hawk Shop convenience store.

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