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Student Union addition called on to fill
wide range of needs for work, enjoyment
April 13, 1998

Architects who next year will begin designing an addition to the Student Union last week learned that much will be expected of their efforts. More than$22 million is budgeted for the addition, to be built on the site of the current School of Pharmacy, as part of UConn 2000.

During a series of focus group sessions with faculty, staff and students held April 7-8, the designers were told a new, improved Student Union should be a place that brings the community closer together; that offers students, staff and faculty a place to relax, to meet, to watch movies; a place where one can buy clothes, gifts, the Wall Street Journal or a stamp; a place where they can check their e-mail, pick up their U.S. mail, grab a bagel and coffee, a quick lunch, a full meal, or a Margarita; and much, much more.

In fact, short of curing the common cold, there were few ideas for the expansion that the architects did not hear. Yet they were neither surprised nor overwhelmed.

"These are all good, reasonable ideas," said Paul F. Knell, a principal with WTW Architects of Pittsburgh, a firm that specializes in designing student unions. "What we have to do is discern what the most desirable pieces are, then see how they fit into the mix." Working with WTW will be Cannon, a Boston-based architectural firm that specializes in college and university projects.

The focus groups, which brought nearly 100 people to the existing student union to discuss the future, were lively and pointed. Almost all the groups commented on the current student union's lack of meeting space, small, poorly furnished rooms, lack of space for student organizations, virtually nonexistent technology, and lack of variety of food - which, many concurred, is one of the most important ingredients in a successful student center. It is also a piece that will definitely be included, said Knell, adding that a food court-type arrangement is proving popular at many universities.

Using information gleaned from the focus groups, the two firms will now develop a survey that will be given to students in their classrooms, and which will also be posted on the Student Union website. The survey results will then be compiled, and the design team will return to campus in early May to discuss the results.

The architects will formalize the plans and visit campus again in the fall, and will design the new building during 1999. Plans call for construction to begin about 2002, after the pharmacy building is razed, with completion slated for 2004.

Richard Veilleux