Jen Small / The Badger Herald

As students return to campus, they will find the west wing of Memorial Union closed for construction, a project which has impacted many of the building’s historic paintings and murals.

The two-phase historical renovation and restoration project of Memorial Union, which is currently in the beginnings of its first phase, broke ground in early June in efforts to upgrade the facilities on the west side, including the theater and Hoofers.

According to University of Wisconsin Union spokesperson Marc Kennedy, the union – which was originally opened in 1928 – has not seen any major renovations since 1939.

With 10,000 people worth of foot traffic a day and no substantial restorations, Memorial Union was in need of attention, Kennedy said.

The idea for the project was prompted by a realization at the 75th Memorial Union Anniversary celebration in 2003 that the union needed to be preserved for students in the future, Wisconsin Union Staff Director Mark Guthier said.

The west wing of the building, home to Der Stiftskeller and the Paul Bunyan Room, also housed some of the university’s historic mural artwork.

In order to prevent damage to these paintings, some of the panels, such as those in the Paul Bunyan Room, have been removed for preservation, Kennedy said.

“The murals in the Paul Bunyan Room have been taken down and kept off site,” Kennedy said, noting even some of the murals not directly affected by the construction have also been removed because of fear of damage from construction vibrations.

According to Guthier, although a substantial number of the murals have been removed, another portion of them has been protected on sight.

Kennedy confirmed and added the university has contracted a company to digitize the murals, outline them and sketch them for recreation after construction is completed in 2014, since some of the rooms will be different sizes in the finished product.

According to Kennedy, in addition to restoring and preserving the past, as with the paintings, the new building will also provide updated facilities for students.

“With all the steps and levels, it looks more like a Byzantine castle,” Kennedy said in reference to the Memorial Union’s west wing pre-construction. “This will rectify that.”

The finished building will also expand the theater to provide more rehearsal space for students, which, according to Kennedy, was lacking in the current wing.

There will also be a new west entrance to the building that will look out toward the lake. The new entrance will also make the union more accessible for handicapped visitors, Kennedy said.

Guthier also noted these renovations will bring Memorial Union up to code, with the addition of another elevator in the west wing.

The project holds a $52.1 million dollar budget, none of which is university funding, Kennedy said.

Phase two of the historical renovation and restoration project is set to begin after 2014 and will renovate the east wing of Memorial Union.