Amid high hopes, union awaits demolition
Like the mythological phoenix, the Memorial Student Union will meet its demise in the next month and less than three years later, rise from its ashes as a new, more versatile structure.
Despite the drastic changes that the new union will provide, the historical value of the current union will be remembered.
"Several existing architectural features will be integrated into the new building," said Chris Kraft, the University of Arizona's project manager for student union construction. "This includes the bell from the USS Arizona and the sculpture next to the main entrance, the brass doors to the union administration area and others."
Kraft said that as the old union slowly reaches its demolition phase, he has developed a new admiration for the hard work that has gone into its creation.
"I don't think it is possible for one to truly appreciate the time and effort that has gone into the building in the past 50 years or so until you see it from the inside," he said.
Since 1951, the Memorial Student Union and U of A Bookstore area has increased from 79,600 sq. feet to its current 274,000 sq. feet. According to Kraft, the new union is expected to be finished in July 2002.
The new union, will cost $59 million, and will consist of approximately 395,000 sq. feet.
Nearly half of the existing student union was built in 1951. Now that the student population is about 34,400 - coupled with another 12,400 staff and faculty members - the old union is in need of modernization.
Kraft said the new union will include many of the same commodities currently housed in the MSU.
"The new Memorial Student Union will provide contemporary dining, meeting, entertainment, essential services, retail outlets, gallery spaces plus student programs, government, career services and bookstore areas," he said.
Kraft said there were both safety and modernization issues that needed to be addressed when planning for the new union.
"It took years of study and financial planning to figure out how to connect the serious deficiencies in the existing union and bookstore with limited resources," he said. "The issues that needed to be resolved - asbestos, ADA requirements, structural concerns and obsolescence - were major and complex."
The union project then began a fast-track plan to speed up the process.
"Now that we know what needs to be done - and how - we are doing it now as soon as possible," Kraft said.
He acknowledged that students have been very understanding during the on-going construction, and hopes that they continue their efforts to work with university during the next few years.
"We are all working closely together to deliver this high quality student union and bookstore on time, in budget, as safely and cost effectively as possible," he said. "Making this happen will not come without some unavoidable inconvenience. Please bear with us while we bear down."
UA spokeswoman Sharon Kha said that the potential benefits of the new union will enhance the lives of students.
"I think the new student union is going to build memories for future students in a way the old student union has not been able to do, because the design will focus on bringing people together," she said. "And places like the Canyon and Kiva will create a community where none existed before."
David Galbraith, director of student union dining services, acknowledged the difficulties for students during construction, but believes the future dining services in the new union will help students.
"Basically what we will try to do is provide a food service flexible to meet the daily needs of students and the special needs of campus staff and faculty," he said.
Galbraith said university officials are still negotiating contracts with outside businesses that may desire space in the student union.
"There are some unidentified retail spaces still available in the union," he said. "We now have the ability to solicit business to come in."
Some students are looking forward to the changes, despite the fact that it will not occur for three years.
"It will probably make things more accessible for all of U of A's walks of life," said Leslie Salazar, an education freshman.
Sarah Conway, a ceramics sophomore, thought the union's design will also provide benefits for students.
"It should have better eating facilities and should be more aesthetically pleasing," she said.