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UA campus will get a new look during the next several years

By Brett Erickson
Arizona Summer Wildcat
July 28, 1999
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Casey Dexter
Arizona Summer Wildcat

The UA is preparing for the student union construction project. Transportation (below) will be hindered.

Arizona Summer Wildcat

When students arrive at the University of Arizona for the upcoming fall semester, a once-tranquil campus environment will be replaced with flashing lights, bulldozers and fenced off piles of rubble.

While all officials involved with the various UA construction projects conceded that distractions are inevitable, they hope students will be able to appreciate the end result.

"This construction - terrible as it is going to be to live through for the next three years - is all directly beneficial to students," said Sharon Kha, UA spokeswoman.

Traffic tribulations

The two major construction projects - replacement of the Memorial Student Union and construction of the new Integrated Learning Center for freshmen - will radically affect pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle traffic around campus.

North Mountain Avenue is a frequently used road that connects the UA to major roads north of the campus. It has already been closed to bicyclists and will soon become a two-way street to accommodate the construction trucks that will be hauling debris away from the union.

Further complicating travel around campus will be two fences that surround each of the two main projects. The fence for the student union project is scheduled to go up Monday, with the ILC fence following on Aug. 9.

The fence around the union will isolate the entire east wing as well as streets just north of the building. The fencing will also restrict pedestrian traffic from the south side of East Second Street.

"We realize that the core of campus will be greatly disruptive to students, faculty and visitors," said Melissa Dryden, program coordinator for UA Facilities Design & Construction.

Union rebirth

Remodeling the Memorial Student Union and the UA Associated Students Bookstore is expected to take 33 months, according to Gilbert Davidson, UA assistant project manager for the renovations.

The $60 million project will be completed in two phases. During the first phase, the east wing of the union - including Gallagher Theater and Sam's Place, will be demolished in late September, Davidson said.

Throughout the next 18 months, workers will be building the new east wing of the union. Some highlights of phase one include new restaurants with indoor-outdoor seating and a new campus bookstore.

Davidson said the second phase of construction will take 15 months, putting the completion date for the project at May of 2002.

During the second phase, the rest of the union will be demolished and rebuilt, leaving all union operations in the new east wing.

To complete the renovations, the UA commissioned Swinerton & Walberg, whose past projects include the Tucson Heart Center and Hohokam Park in Mesa.

David Ceese, Swinerton & Walberg's project manager for the UA site, said they wanted the new union to function as a transition point between the different styles of architecture found at the UA.

Ceese said the new union will successfully blend the older buildings west of the union, with the more modern styles of architecture found in newer buildings that sit east of the union.

"I think what you'll see is a union that is the transition of old and new architecture that blends and ties the two sides of campus," he said.

Kha said she agreed that students would be pleased with the new union.

"Students will have a fantastic student union - maybe the best in the country," she said.

While officials remain confident about the high quality of the final project, Ceese also cautioned students that it will come only after years of disruption.

"The whole central area of campus, north of the (UA) Mall is going to be pretty congested with construction vehicles."

100,000 cubic yards of dirt

While the new student union will benefit all members of the UA community, the ILC is aimed at improving college life for freshmen.

"The ILC will be able to serve the students in a way that the university hasn't been able to do in the past," Davidson said.

Located just west of the North Cherry Avenue and UA Mall intersection, the ILC will be a one-story underground building that provides various services to freshmen. The facility will include four multimedia lecture halls, six discussion classrooms and several rooms for tutoring and advising services.

One drawback to the current "decentralized" system is that students often have to go to several different administrative offices for advising and tutoring, Kha said.

"If they're having trouble, it's just so easy (in the ILC) to get tutoring, drop a class, change your major - do whatever you have to do," she said.

Excavation of the ILC site is scheduled to begin on Aug. 16, when workers will begin hauling away over 100,000 cubic yards of dirt.

Dryden expects the digging to last for six weeks, although that time frame could change if workers elect to work around the clock.

Dryden and other officials said they hope providing freshmen with their own academic building will help to improve UA retention rates. Seventy-seven percent of first-year students from the fall of 1997 returned for their sophomore year.

During the 18 months of ILC construction, Cherry will be closed at East University Boulevard to all traffic. Bicyclists will have to use East Fourth Street or East Second Street as alternative east-west routes. Pedestrians will be able to walk along the south side of the construction site.

The estimated completion date of the ILC is February 2001.