From our days at SOAR spent in Union South to the warm nights spent on the Union Terrace listening to music and drinking beer from the Rathskeller, we have all enjoyed the Wisconsin Union in our time on campus. Today we encourage you to vote to allow the enjoyment of the Unions for years to come.
If you’ve been in the Union recently you have seen its current condition. It is a great building, one of the best in the country, but it is also in need of much repair. There’s been no major renovation of the Memorial Union, our “campus living room, ” since it was built in 1928 and clearly, the needs of students when it was built are very different from the needs of the campus today.
Therefore, the Wisconsin Union is developing plans to renovate and expand the Wisconsin Unions to ensure that they remain the heart and soul of programming and campus life in the future. These plans include necessary improvements to conform to fire code standards and accessibility standards within the Union. For example, it’s nearly impossible for a disabled person to efficiently navigate the building without significant help and, believe it or not, the Memorial Union has no sprinkler system to protect it from fire.
Aside from the needed behind-the-scenes improvements, there are plans to expand the Union’s ability to provide additional student organization, meeting and programming space. Annually, the Union turns away over 1,300 requests for meeting space. We would like to continue to encourage the growth of student organizations here on campus. The Wisconsin Union is committed to working with students to assess the need for additional space and updated facilities and we’ll look to see how to accommodate the needs of the campus community.
Ideas for expansions include an additional small theater, a large ballroom type space at the Memorial Union and moving the Craftshop to Union South to make room for additional student office space. In both new and current rooms, we would like to make them all technologically capable with Internet access and audiovisual equipment, something many Union rooms lack.
At Union South, we’re examining the options of either rebuilding Union South or extensively renovating it. Whatever option chosen would be the most cost effective and provide a more user-friendly building with better programming, relaxation and retail space, as well as other student organization friendly improvements. All building plans would be fully reviewed and discussed by the student body, Associated Students of Madison and the Union’s shared governance committee.
In order to accomplish our goal of renovating and expanding the Wisconsin Union, we ask students to financially support these renovations with a ‘yes’ vote on the Union referendum in the ASM elections. The referendum, if passed, would collect money to support the project from students over the coming years. The fee would be $3 per semester for the first two years and then would increase annually by $10 for the next 12 years. The layout of this fee collection has students paying more as the renovations near completion; to ensure that students in the middle and the end who will enjoy the completed renovations would pay more segregated fees.
We understand that this will be a good amount of money down the road, but we remember that these increases are spread out over 14 years; one dollar 14 years from now is not worth one dollar today. In addition, this plan would call for the Union to commit over $40 million in alumni donations and operating revenue towards the project and students would pay no more than 75 percent of the costs.
This financing system is consistent with many other building projects on campus and is in the spirit of the funding process for the original erection of the Union, where a large majority of the student body gave $50 to build a Union that they wouldn’t be able to enjoy until they were alumni.
We hope that students will be in support of keeping the Wisconsin Unions up-to-date and enjoyable buildings for years to come. We believe it’s crucial to begin this process now, before our Unions fall too far into disrepair and far behind technologically, becoming less enjoyable spaces on campus. Currently, several schools in both the UW-System and the Big Ten are building or renovating their student Unions in order to ensure that they will be functional for future students. We hope that the students of Madison will vote to do the same. To look at some information on the referendum and see some current plans for the Unions, go to www.union.wisc.edu/itsourunion and support the Union in the elections April 5th-7th.
Benjamin Hawke, Vice President, Wisconsin Union