Beginning tomorrow, students will have the opportunity to vote on two referendums that could drastically affect the look of the University of Wisconsin campus and the people who work on it.
This is the first in a two-part series addressing the referendums.
The Wisconsin Union Facilities Improvement Plan would raise student segregated fees by a maximum of $96 per student per semester for a period of up to 30 years, if passed. These funds would be earmarked to cover the majority — an estimated 58 percent of the referendum's $169.1 million total price tag — of a project to renovate Memorial Union and build a new South Campus Union, which will cost an estimated $153 million.
A new parking garage and "guest-room structure" are also included in the plan, which would be paid for using the remaining $16 million, bringing the total cost of the project to $169.1 million. Student segregated fees would not go toward construction costs for the garage and guest-room project.
According to Wisconsin Union Director Mark Guthier, the project is necessary to continue the "legacy" of the two Wisconsin Unions.
"The Unions add significantly to campus life and improve campus life for many students," Guthier said. "This plan is about preserving that legacy."
Though finalized design plans for the two Unions would be completed upon approval of the WUFIP referendum, many proposals for the two buildings have been put forth by the Wisconsin Union Directorate, which sponsored the referendum and is overseeing the project.
According to WUD President Janell Wise, the South Campus Union would be an environmentally friendly, sustainable "green" building and could include an urban center housing a sports pub, coffee house and climbing wall. A 400- to 550-seat auditorium has also been proposed, along with a student lounge with a skyline view, an outdoor green space and other recreation and activity spaces.
If the WUFIP referendum were approved, construction of the South Campus Union would be part of the first phase of the project, beginning in spring 2008 and expected to be completed in 2010.
Renovations to Memorial Union would also begin in spring 2008 and would be completed in three parts over the three phases of the project. The expected completion date of the entire project is 2014.
According to Guthier, Memorial Union is in desperate need of "infrastructure improvements," including bringing its fire and safety systems up to code and improving accessibility for people with impaired mobility.
Guthier said these improvements would have to be done regardless of the passing of the WUFIP referendum; however, it would be done more "piecemeal" and at a greater expense to students.
Guthier said nothing would be done to the South Campus Union if the WUFIP referendum failed because of a lack of "available funds."
"We wouldn't be able to do anything over there," Guthier said.
Wise added there might not be a guarantee the south campus building would remain a student Union.
"There's a lot of development on the south side of campus, and we've heard whispering it won't be a student Union, but a private development," Wise said.
However, to some, the costs of the project are too high for students.
"At the cost of $96 a [semester] to students, it's ridiculous," ASM Chair Eric Varney said in a previous interview. "It comes down to whether students want a new, renovated Union or keep an extra $100 each [semester]."
Guthier said WUD arrived at the maximum of $96 per student per semester for up to 30 years number by wanting students to have a "majority voice" for the Union.
"It's about putting students in control of that process," Guthier said. "By paying just over half the cost, students will have a majority voice."
While at first the math may indicate students pay a significantly larger share of the costs, Guthier compared the situation to a home mortgage, where one takes out a loan and pays interest on it.
"[This increase] is equivalent to paying the interest and principal on $97 million of the $169 million project — $97 million of a $169 million loan," Guthier said.
All UW students have from 8 a.m. Tuesday to 8 p.m. Thursday to voice their support of or opposition to the referendum during an ASM online vote. Students can vote at http://vote.asm.wisc.edu.