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 delightful 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 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 to the union, 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, which should 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