Every Monday, a group of University of Wisconsin of students
and staff meets for about three hours to work on a building project.

They sketch rooms, use models to place blocks and see how the building
would look, and discuss topics ranging from sustainability to what
kinds of programming the building would house and support.

So far they have talked about the possibility of a ballroom
dance space, a terrace, study areas, a climbing wall or whatever comes to their
minds. It looks like the Union South building project is open to endless

The design committee, responsible for coming up with the new
Union South concept, is a group of nine students and six non-students,
including Union staff, UW alumni and faculty. Wisconsin Union President John
Barnhardt, a UW senior, chairs the committee.

The Union opened an online survey asking the student body
for input on what kind of services they would like to see in the new Union

According to Marc Kennedy, Wisconsin Union communications
director, UW Ballroom Dance Association seems to be one of the most excited
student groups at this point.

UWMBDA?s The ballroom dance association?s leadership has
urged its members to complete the online survey and specifically ask for more
dance space, because they have said the 16,000 square feet of event space the
new Union will most likely have will not be enough for their purposes.

For Wisconsin Union involvement coordinator David
Christopher, a UW senior, this is an opportunity for students to make the new
Union their own because the current Union South, built in the 1970s, was more
of a template.

This time, those involved are building the Union from ground

?Everybody is still kind of learning on how to get folks
involved,? Christopher said. ?It?s interesting to see people get genuinely
interested and involved.?

The group has come a long way from six student focus groups
with more than 50 participants brainstorming back in fall 2005. Now, there are
16 design advisory groups, each one assigned a different part of the project.

The DAGs include building support and operations, food
service and retail, indoor and outdoor recreation and others.

According to Barnhardt, the project is currently in its
broad scope model, where members of the committees decide what they want to see
in the Union. By the end of summer, the project will move on to design stages,
when architects will put the pieces together and sketch the actual looks of the

That sketch, Barnhardt said, will be taken to UW and UW
System architects, the state division of facilities and Union Council by
October 2008. If approved, Union South occupants would move out by the end of
the year, and construction starts would start next January.

The architecture will be developed by Milwaukee-based
Workshop Architects, and most students and staff involved in the project seem
excited about their work so far.

?I am very, very pleased,? Union Director Mark Guthier said
of the team of architects, which normally comes to Madison Mondays and
Tuesdays. ?They are very intuitive of students and how they think and interact,
and they meet students at times and make themselves available.?

Workshop Architects has also worked on other student unions
across the country, including some other schools in the UW System and at Iowa
State University.

If the project remains on schedule, Guthier added, the new
building would open during spring 2011, and would be home to that year?s
National Science Olympiads.

?It really is a historic time for students on the campus,?
Guthier said. ?I hope that large numbers of the student body would be excited
too about this project.?

Financing the project

While having the opportunity to design and participate in
constructing the new Union South seems to be an enticing idea, the question
remains over how the project will be funded.

The overall cost of building a new union will be
approximately $67 million, and about $64 million will come from segregated

For students, the cost has been $48 per semester in
segregated fees since last semester, which should remain at this price until
the end of the 2008-2009 academic  year. After that, students will pay $96
in seg fees per semester for the next 30 years.

The segregated fees costs were approved through a 2006
campuswide referendum, and according to UW graduate student and former Union
president Shayna Hetzel, the cost could go down if Union staff collects enough
money from private fundraising.

There will also be 270-spot underground parking lot costing
$8.1 million and guest rooms costing $6.5 million. Those will be covered by UW
Transportation Services and the Union budget, respectively.

Guthier said the Union has already budgeted for the loss of
revenue from Union South by increasing size and scope of other delis across

?We are trying as much as possible to keep as many revenue
streams coming,? Guthier added. ?We are able to put a budget forward that
actually was in a better financial position than the one we put this year.?