Editor’s Note: This article was written by The Voice News Editor, Rachel Wright and BUnow Opinion and Editorial Editor, Rachael Sheller. It can also be found in today’s publication of The Voice.
On the evening of Jan. 30, students from all different campus organizations gathered into the Kehr Union Building ballroom for the first presentation on the prospects of a new project. Dione Somerville, Vice President of Student Affairs, greeted the students with a humorous, “Good Morning,” despite the setting evening sun, and then started the presentation by demonstrating a new plan that would affect campus for years to come, a new student union building.
“This is the beginning of a conversation,” said Somerville. The presentation started with an overview of a survey that was taken on campus during the spring semester of last year. 11,000 surveys were conducted, many face-to-face and through email, and taken by Bloomsburg University students.
What the results concluded showed students’ disdain for the current Kehr Union building. Built in 1972, when the student body was roughly 2,000 students less than what it is now, the building was considered suitable to fit all of the needs a student union building should have. However, that is no longer the case.
Tom Kresch, Assistant Vice President of Student Affairs said, “During the survey we had a student say, ‘I didn’t even know we had a student union.’ That just shows how bad the current building is and how little it functions as one.”
In the survey conducted only 5.6 percent of students said the Kehr Union building meets all of their needs, 42 percent felt there was enough adequate space as is. 93.8 percent of students think student focused social spaces are important and 81.4% believe a student union is important. However only 1.6 percent of those surveyed said that they hung out at the Kehr Union Building.
A Student Union Mini Master Plan put together in Feb. 2012 and a Campus Master Plan in Feb. 2014 both indicated a new Student Union was needed and set to be built where Warren Student Services Center is located.
Blueprints of this new building and renderings show larger meeting rooms, a multitude of student lounge areas, study rooms, a computer lab, a game room and student related office spaces as well as new food services and a coffee shop.
In addition to the many planned amenities, the proposed building will also feature a green roof.
While the question may be raised by students as to why the Kehr Union Building can’t be updated, Kresch said, “This building has challenges we can’t correct. Everything is spread out but it’s not accessible.”
The Kehr Union Building has problematic operational issues and it would be more cost effective and functional to build a new building than to remodel the existing space.
According to the plan, the building would be completed during the 2024-2025 academic year and will cost about $75 million, just under $63 million would need to be raised through private funds and the Student Union Building Fee.
The Student Union Building Fee is a small additional fee that students would need to pay. Before 2011, BU students paid two fees to support the student union including the building fee and the operation fee. When the outstanding debt from the Kehr Union Building was paid in full during the 2010-2011 academic year, the building fee was eliminated. What is being asked is for students to pay a $40 Student Union Building Fee starting in the 2017-2018 academic year, and then in the 2020-2021 academic year it will be bumped up to $80.
The project is currently still in the planning stages; many processes must be taken place before it can even be green-lit to move forward. One of these steps is the student fee referendum. The voting will take place on Feb. 28, March 1-2. Students will be voting whether Bloomsburg University should continue to pursue the creation of a new student union and if the Student Union Building Fee is fair.
According to Somerville a new student union will enhance a student’s experience at Bloomsburg. “It goes back to the quality of the education, the experience…students need a place for professional and personal growth and learn universal skills,” she said. “It’s important students learn how to navigate an interpersonal space and a student union helps build those skills. You don’t grow being in a basement.”
Below are links to what a new potential Student Union Building would look like.
All photos are courtesy of Edwin Valovage
Disclaimer: Images reflect an artist’s rendering of a potential new building. The actual exterior, interior and location of the building will be further explored as a part of a formal design process that would engage a large contingent of the campus community in a collaborative process to define the final design.