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    April 15, 2002

Student Union Renovations
Slated to Start Next Month
By Richard Veilleux

Construction will begin next month on an expanded and enhanced Student Union, turning the outmoded, 50-year-old building into what Vicky Triponey, vice chancellor for student affairs, says will become "the University's living room."

The three-phase, $45 million project will nearly double the size of the existing building. A 500-seat movie theater, a multipurpose room that will accommodate as many as 1,000 people, a variety of restaurants, and new facilities for each of UConn's cultural centers are highlights of the project. The building also will house mailboxes for 15,000 students, and meeting space will be nearly twice that currently available. All rooms will be hard-wired for computers, and the building will be air conditioned.

"This project is vitally important," says Triponey, "and not just for students. This will be a community center for faculty, staff, and students."

The first phase of the project will begin within the next few weeks, as workers for Konover Construction Co. begin fencing off most of the Student Union Mall. The mall will be used as a staging site not only for contractors working at the Student Union, but also for firms hired to renovate and build additions to the Gentry Building, the former business school building, and the William Benton Museum of Art. The mall will be closed for at least three years, and a variety of groups, including the Commencement Committee, must find alternate sites for events that generally occur on the mall.

Similarly, student affairs staff are working to find new locations for student organizations housed in the Student Union, and meeting space to accommodate faculty, staff and students who use the building. A number of temporary locations, large and small, have already been identified.

"Our focus is on the end product," says Eddie Daniels, director of campus activities. "There will be challenges during construction, but we have contingency plans ready. And it will be well worth the wait. It is going to be a wonderful building, a real focal point for this campus, when it is completed."

Phase I of the project - the largest and most extensive of what could be three phases - will transform the section of the building running from the current breezeway to the north end of the structure, where the movie theater will be added. The former Puerto Rican and Latin American Cultural Center and a storage building for the School of Fine Arts will be demolished to make way for the addition. PR/LACC recently moved to a modular building behind Hall Dorm.

The interior of that section will be completely remodeled. An addition doubling the width of the building will reach beyond the rear patio, extending onto the mall. The new portion of the building - in each phase of construction - will include vast amounts of glass, on the facade and roof of the building.

Phase I, says Larry Schilling, university architect, is projected to be completed by January 2004. Once finished, students and staff will move into the north building, and Phase II, which will complete work on the existing building, will begin. The second phase includes construction of a rotunda with a spiral staircase leading to the upper floors, space for three new eateries, a new main entrance to the building facing Fairfield Way and Gampel Pavilion, and more meeting space. Phase II is projected to be completed by January 2005.

Timelines for the new construction that will comprise Phase III depend on construction of a new pharmacy building in the science quad near Torrey Life Sciences. It is possible, says Schilling, the new pharmacy building could be completed by January 2005, and the current pharmacy school demolished that spring. Then the second and third phases of the Student Union work could be combined, he says, and the final piece of the project, an addition extending the student center down Fairfield Way, can be finished at the same time.

The addition will house a 350-seat food court and a multipurpose room, which can be configured in a variety of ways to accommodate conferences or meetings.

Once completed, the building is expected to be a marvel, says M. Kevin Fahey, associate director of campus activities.

"Everything has been planned to allow maximum flexibility," Fahey says. "The theater can be used as a lecture hall during the day, the up-scale restaurant can be used as a night club, the multipurpose room can be configured to hold 350, 700 or even 1,000 people."

The north section of the building will be closed, and construction will begin, immediately after commencement. A groundbreaking ceremony will be held at 11:15 a.m. May 1, on the Student Union Mall.

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