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LSU Student Union Renovation Nears Completion

It's a food court and a coffee house. It's a bookstore and a computer lab. It's a theater and a museum. It's a ceramics studio and a barbershop. It's a bank and an office. It's a place to meet friends – both new and old – and make memories that will last a lifetime. It is all these things and more. It is the LSU Student Union.

On Jan. 6, 1964, the Student Union opened its doors to 13,000 LSU students. For almost 50 years, the Union has served as one of the central features of LSU's campus. Seeing the university's enrollment more than double during that time, as traffic through its doors reached more than 15,000 on a busy day, it became obvious that the Union was in need of an expansion and a facelift.

"Since the 1960s, as enrollment grew, the wear and tear on the building, with 15,000 or more people passing through every day, became increasingly noticeable and more difficult to camouflage or keep in good repair," said Shirley Plakidas, director of the Student Union. "The demand for meeting rooms also increased, and we found that we were having to turn away more customers for lack of adequate space."

A 2001 campus survey identified a Union renovation as one of the students' top priorities. Two years later, that commitment to a renovation was proven when a student referendum resulted in approval of a student fee to overhaul the building.

As a result of that 2003 student referendum, on Sept. 29, 2006, the Union held a groundbreaking ceremony that kicked off the start of construction in October. After more than four years and almost $84 million, the Union renovation is nearing its magnificent completion.

"Our entire staff is excited about how beautiful the facility looks now – so much more inviting and bright, while still retaining the original architectural design," said Plakidas. "We can’t wait for all the details to be wrapped up!"

One of the goals during the Union renovation was to keep the building open to the LSU community and to keep as many services up and running as possible. Although some temporary spot closures were inevitable, having construction proceed in phases over the years guaranteed that the entire building would never be closed. The only time the building was completely closed was during a two-month period between December 2006 and January 2007, which is typically a slow period for the Union due to the semester break.


"There was never a question in our minds that staying open during construction was the right thing to do," said Plakidas. "All LSU students, including part-time students, pay fees to support both the operations and the construction of the Union. It would have been unfair to students to have all of the services relocated and scattered around campus if the Union had shut down altogether. Part of the Union’s mission is to provide services conveniently for students."

Some of the biggest improvements the students might currently see at the Union include the new four-story addition along the southeast part of the building, the new Live Oak Lounge on the ground floor, the computer lab and public e-mail stations with approximately 30 computers – both PCs and Mac – and wireless Internet access and dozens of additional electrical outlets to accommodate the increased use of laptop computers throughout the Union.

Meeting Rooms

Other improvements include the addition of eight new meeting rooms and renovation to six existing meeting rooms, and the addition of several lobbies and lounges throughout the building. Almost all of the meeting rooms have a fresh look with new paint, seating, ceilings and lighting fixtures. One of the new meeting rooms – the Capital Chamber – has tiered, permanent seminar seating with built-in A/V media and a "smart" lectern.

Rooms in the Union, including meeting rooms, conference rooms and ballrooms, can be reserved by registered student organizations, university-sponsored groups and campus departments and divisions on the Union's website. For more information, visit http://www.lsu.edu/union.

With the expansion, the Union is also now able to offer office space to registered student organizations for the first time. These shared spaces are now available in the Union's new fourth floor addition.

"Student organizations can now apply to have their own offices in the Union," said Associate Director for Campus Life Michelle Lowery Eldredge. "These offices come equipped with a desk and chair, along with a reception area near the Tchoupitoulas Room and a lounge area near the Lafourche Room.


"Additionally, organizations will have access to a resource room and a Tiger Card copier, with lockers for groups to store paperwork and small items from year to year. Our hope is to have a vibrant community of student organizations located on the Union's fourth floor."

Currently there are 12 organizations that have temporary office space in the Union, which will expand to approximately 30 organizations when the space is completed in the spring. Student organizations can apply annually for one these spaces, and the organizations will be divided in groups of 3-5 organizations per office.

"As a student leader I find having an organizational space very important," said Krystal Azimullah, the student chair of the Union Board. "It's like the 'home' of the organization. Furthermore, it gives you a chance to get to know all the other student leaders on a more personal level. It's a place where friendships are born. The opportunity student organizations have with this space is incredible; it opens the door for communication and collaboration."

For more information about the student organization office space, or for eligibility information and the application process, please contact Eldredge at campuslife@lsu.edu, or download an application. Additional information can be found by reviewing the facility usage agreement and the space allocation policy.

Food

Although the new food court will not be open until the spring, food options currently open include McDonald's, Einstein Bros. Bagels and a pizza take-out on the ground floor, and a mini "Tiger Lair" on the main floor. Later this fall, the Magnolia Room will open and provide restaurant-style dining, eventually featuring performance cooking.

The new food court, which will open during the spring, will feature separate food entities with their own cash registers similar to a standard shopping mall food court, replacing the single food court entrance and check-out from the past. In addition to facilitating faster service, this will allow Dining Services to open individual units when the food court would have previously been closed. The new food court options will include a CC's Community Coffee House, Papa John’s Pizza, Louisiana Classics, Quizno's, Jamba Juice, Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina, Chick-fil-A, Panda Express, Sushi and Food to Geaux, a convenience-style store that sells pre-wrapped sandwiches, salads, yogurt, bottled drinks and fruit.

"The old food court configuration posed several problems – long lines at the cashier stations, inadequate space for the most popular brands and, most importantly, the inability to schedule operating hours for each food outlet independently," said Plakidas. "The new food court eliminates those problems and will make it much more convenient for students and others to obtain meals quickly during their busy schedules."

Services

In addition to improved and increased food options, services have also been expanded and renovated during this process. Services currently provided in the Union include the LSU Bookstore, operated by Barnes & Noble College Booksellers; a full-service branch of the Campus Federal Credit Union; a Cox Communications retail kiosk; a barbershop; ATMs for Regions Bank, Campus Federal Credit Union, Capital One, Chase, Whitney and Community Cash; an information center including the LSU Student Union Copy Shop; a notary public; and the Tiger Card office.

"Most students do more than one thing when they visit the Union – eat, meet friends, study, use the ATMs, attend a meeting and so on," said Plakidas. "The Union tries to make it easier and more convenient for students by providing a 'one-stop shop.'"

Additional services that will open during the spring include a postal service, an optical store and a Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions Center. Some possible future services include a dairy store, a computer and/or cell phone repair service, and additional food outlets.

Student Union Theater

On Saturday, Oct. 9, the newly renovated Union Theater will officially kick off the 2010-11 Union Theater Presents series with "Joint's Jumpin'," a celebration of New Orleans' musical influence, at 8 p.m. Closed since July 2008, the Union Theater reopens as an almost brand new venue, which becomes evident as soon as the enlarged mezzanine lobby is viewed through the two-story glass entrance.

Once inside, patrons will be welcomed by a new entrance and box office, elevator access to all three seating levels, new staircases on the north and west sides, entirely new seating, new box seats on both sides of the auditorium, along with improved acoustics, which all add to the outstanding theater experience.

"The beautiful glass exterior of the theater is the new entrance to two lobbies with spectacular views of Free Speech Alley," said Terry Serio, assistant director of the Union Theater. "The interior of the theater boasts more spacious seating, is ADA compliant offering wheelchair and companion seating, has two new elevators, raised ceiling and acoustical paneled wood walls and ceiling 'clouds' that have virtually all but turned the theater into a recital hall."

In addition to the performances sponsored by the Union Theater, departments and organizations throughout campus also utilize the theater, including the LSU School of Music, which held the LSU Symphony's inaugural performance in the renovated theater on Sept. 13, receiving three standing ovations at the conclusion of its performance.

"The Union Theater is the only theater in Baton Rouge of its size," said Serio. "With a robust 1,257 seat house, it still invokes an intimate feeling with first-rate sightlines. The superior acoustical improvements are measured in alcons, ambience and amplitude, in other words, greater clarity and intelligibility of human and musical instruments with 'live' acoustic characteristics and the instantaneous magnitude of an oscillating quality or sound pressure."

For more information on the Union Theater, including how to contribute to the Union Theater Director's Circle, contact Serio at mtserio@lsu.edu or visit http://www.lsu.edu/union.

Student Union Art Gallery

The LSU Student Union Art Gallery will open the exhibit "From Gemstones to Dinosaur Bones: Discovering the Treasures of LSU" on Friday, Oct. 8. The exhibit will be on display through Sunday, Nov. l4, and will showcase items from the "Treasures of LSU" book edited by Laura Lindsay, interim dean of the LSU College of Education and professor emerita in the Manship School of Mass Communication, as well as other treasures selected by the participating sites. An opening reception is scheduled for Oct. 8 at 6 p.m., where attendees will also be able to purchase the book.

In addition to the exhibit, LSU President Emeritus William Jenkins will give a presentation on "The Importance of University Collections" on Wednesday, Oct. 27, at 12:30 p.m. in the gallery. On Sunday, Nov. 7, the gallery will host "LSU Treasures Day" from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m. On this day, people can visit Hill Memorial Library, the Natural History Museum, the Costume and Textile Museum, the LSU Student Union Art Gallery, the Rural Life Museum, the Claude L. Shaver Theater, Allen Hall and the LSU Museum of Art to view selected treasures. Copies of "Treasures of LSU" are available for purchase from the LSU Student Union Bookstore or through the LSU Press' website, www.lsu.edu/lsupress.

Leisure Classes

LSU also offers Student Union Leisure Classes each semester that help participants create, learn, grow and play. These fun classes are offered to both the LSU community and the general public and range from crochet and embroidery to automotive repair and maintenance, and from sign language and Cajun dance to sac-a-lait and bream fishing with the jigging pole.

In January, the new Leisure Arts Studio will open in the Union with two large workrooms that will allow two classes to meet simultaneously. Classes in stained glass, jewelry, watercolor, clay – wheel throwing, hand building and tile – and other crafts will be held in the new studio space, which will include a separate wheel room, glazing room, hand building room, clay recycling room and kiln room.

Campus Departments

The Union is also the home of many campus departments, including the addition of several departments following the renovation. The entire Union staff is housed in the building, which includes the director, marketing and media personnel, event management, building services and business office staff, IT management, art gallery and theater staff, Tiger Card staff and Leisure Class staff, as well as Dining Services' catering staff. Other campus units housed in the Union include the Dean of Students, Student Advocacy & Accountability, Campus Life, Greek Life, the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Student Government.

The Reveille first proposed the idea of building a union at LSU in 1939. It took almost 20 years for 1958's "Proposed Plan for a Student Union at LSU" to be submitted to the Board of Supervisors for approval.

As with the current renovations, it was a student referendum in 1955 that allowed a fee to be created to fund the construction of the Union. The student fee of $10 was approved in 1958, along with commissioning of architects and the authorization to build the facility. Carl Maddox was appointed the first director of the Union in 1959 and the first Union Board – comprised of students, faculty and alumni – was selected in 1962. Construction began in 1962 and was completed in 1964.

In 2003, the student referendum resulted in a $60 fee to fund the Union renovations that would be phased in over six semesters. That $60 fee corresponds almost exactly with the $10 imposed in the early 1960s for construction of the Union when inflation is taken into account.

Following Hurricane Katrina's landfall in 2005, construction, materials and labor costs soared throughout the Gulf region, resulting in a nearly $30 million dollar cost increase to the project – from an estimated $54.6 million to $83.7 million. As a result, in 2007, the LSU Board of Supervisors added a $29 fee to the $60 fee already in place to complete the renovations. It is expected that it will take approximately 25 years to complete the payment on the bonds issued to finance the project.

"Today’s students are able to enjoy the Union because students over the past 50+ years made the investment to make it what it is today," said Plakidas. "Today’s students are doing the same thing – making it possible for future generations of students to enjoy the facilities, services, and conveniences of their Student Union."

Although its programs and activities have changed and evolved over time, reflecting the changing interests and lifestyles of each new generation, and its structure has seen new additions and renovations, the LSU Student Union continues to serve as the vibrant hub of life on campus, helping to create a sense of community that keeps the spirit of the university living on forever.