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Building the UA's Future

By Eric Swedlund
Arizona Summer Wildcat
July 28, 1999
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Arizona Summer Wildcat

After years of concern and complaints about the decrepit condition of its student union, the UA is preparing to begin an undertaking that officials promise will revitalize the campus - the creation of a $60-million, state-of-the-art facility.

"In the long term, the new student union will become truly the heart of the university," said University of Arizona President Peter Likins. "We will be overjoyed."

With innovative design features and more than 100,000 more square feet than the Memorial Student Union, the yet-to-be named union is scheduled for completion in the summer of 2002.

Built in 1951, the Memorial Student Union is plagued with so many problems - including leaks, asbestos, rotting pipes and others - that it would cost $14 million to simply bring the building up to code.

One of the main themes of the new 377,000 square foot union will be preserving UA traditions, said university spokeswoman Sharon Kha.

A new, improved U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Lounge will be on the first floor next to one of the main entrances.

"I am convinced that when the construction is through, it will revitalize the campus," Kha said. "I don't think there will be another union like it."

Likins said the design of the new union and the funding for it "sets a high standard that (other universities) will attempt to emulate."

Gilbert Davidson, assistant project manager for union construction, said the work is on the "fast track," with asbestos abatement already underway and the major demolition to begin on August 2.

"They've been very creative in how they'll work the construction," he said.

Likins said the funding issues for the project were difficult to work out because it seemed necessary to have a student fee to build it.

But in November 1997, UA students killed a referendum that would have instituted a $40 per semester fee for union construction.

While UA officials originally thought a student fee would be necessary, a sizable contribution from the Athletic Department allowed the project to continue without an additional cost to students.

"The project far exceeds the expectations we all had five years ago," Likins said. "It is quite innovative the way it has been financed with no student fee."

The final design for the building was selected in November 1998, and the Arizona Board of Regents approved the project in February.

"The new union will be very reflective of the traditions of the UA, especially with the memorial lounge," Davidson said.

An open-air walkway called the Canyon will sit in the building's center, with a replica of the U.S.S. Arizona's hull on the east side.

The Canyon will also have a riparian area on the north side, complete with indigenous plants.

"The centerpoint of the building will be the Canyon area," Davidson said. "It is going to be a very inviting space."

The new building will have a clock tower similar to the current union. Kha said the architects have planned to incorporate the old clock faces in the new tower to preserve tradition.

Davidson said the new union will have everything the current one offers in terms of services, plus new features like some retail outlets that could include a hair salon or a music store.

The bookstore will be updated and moved into a larger area, and the post office and Fast Copy will be retained.

The new union will have a food court with six different restaurants and cafeteria dining services, similar to the Fiddlee Fig, located one floor above.

Internet access will be available throughout the new union, and the plan includes a computer lab.

Career services will be relocated from Old Main, and Associated Students and Student Programs will have more space. Additionally, the new union will accommodate more meeting space and lounges.

A larger, more functional version of the Cellar will be included, Davidson said, as will a more spacious and centrally-located Sam's Place.

Although Gallagher Theater and its rich tradition will be lost, the new union will have a multi-purpose room, with seating for 350 compared to the Gallagher's 600. The multi-purpose room will have top-quality sound, projection capabilities and will be able to accommodate movies as well as meetings and presentations.

The south side of the union will be set back farther from the Mall to allow for more outdoor dining and more access points to the building.

Davidson said the North Mountain Avenue area will be redeveloped to eliminate some of the congestion. A circular drop-off area will be added, and the building will be extended nearly all the way to East North Campus Drive.

"The new union will take on a new life," Davidson said. "It will be the hub of the campus. I am really excited about what's to come."

Kha said a Web site with construction drawings and floor plans will be up by August 8, and will be accessible through the UA homepage.