The University Center for years had more of an appearance of a fortress with its stone-walled exterior, a far-from-inviting view for Southeast Missouri State University students entering the building from Normal Avenue.
But since this summer the university has been working to transform the 29-year-old, four-story building, both inside and out, into a more friendly student union through two separate construction projects with a combined price tag of more than $1 million.
"I definitely think it will make it more of a student union," said Dane Huxel, president of student government.
A contractor tore down the stone wall in front of the building in late August. Construction crews have dug a huge hole in the sloping ground as work continues to develop a decorative, paving-stone entrance plaza that will include stairs leading to the front of the University Center. Two planters also will be installed as part of the design.
"Our goal is to open the front and make it more welcoming," said Tom Hadler, facilities management project manager at Southeast.
"The removal of the wall is something we have talked about for many years," he said. "We hope the improvements will create more of a social meeting place and a larger area for students to gather," he said.
The new plaza at the northeast corner of the University Center will serve as the new entrance to a convenience store that opened in the building in August. The university's food-service vendor, Chartwells Educational Dining Services, operates the 2,500-square-foot store in what was once part of a cafeteria in the University Center.
A bistro area with umbrella tables will be created on part of the new patio.
The exterior work should be completed by the end of November, Hadler said.
Chartwells is paying for the exterior improvements, costing $220,000. The food service hired Woolpert LLC of St. Louis to do the architectural design and Artisan Contracting of Cape Girardeau to do the construction work.
Second floor project
The building also is undergoing interior renovations on the second floor that are designed to create space for student organizations. The area once was a bowling alley and in more recent years housed textbook services. Textbook services has moved to Kent Library.
The University Center interior remodeling project, whose first phase has been under construction all summer, will include offices for student organizations, a "computer bar" where students can sit on bar stools or stand while they use computer terminals, a conference room, a television lounge, a mail room for student organizations and a meeting room.
A new door is being installed that will allow entry directly into the second-floor student organizations area from the front of the University Center on Normal Avenue. "It draws you into the space," said Angela Meyer, facilities management project manager.
The second floor previously had a small television lounge area, but the new area will be designed to look more like a living room with couches and chairs, she said.
"We are trying to create more of a fun atmosphere for students," Meyer said.
As part of the project, a third-floor meeting room will be removed to allow for expansion of the existing student lounge on that floor. The lounge borders the University Center lobby.
Dr. Dennis Holt, vice president of administration and enrollment management, told the board of regents in February that the project could make the University Center a selling point to prospective students.
Huxel, the student government president, is excited about the renovations.
"I peek in almost every day to check on what is going on," he said.
Creating a single area of offices and meeting space for campus organizations should encourage more interaction between various groups of students, Huxel said.
The university is spending $880,000 on the three-phase project, which is being done by Associated Sheet Metal of Jackson and the school's own remodeling crew.
Associated Sheet Metal is doing the mechanical and electrical work. The university construction crew is handling the finish work, including construction of new interior walls -- some of them curved to give a flowing, modern look to the 10,000-square-foot area on the second floor, school officials said.
Meyer said the student-organization area should be finished by December.
That work will be followed by a second phase of improvements. The career services office on the second floor will be relocated across the hall to office space that now houses student government.
In the third phase, University Center administrative offices on the fourth floor will be relocated to the former career services office on the second floor.
Minority student programs then will be relocated from the third floor to the fourth floor of the University Center. The move will put the offices of minority student programs near the dean of students office, school officials said.
All of the interior improvements and office moves should be completed by the end of next summer, officials said.
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