When Christina Gasper arrived at Fort Lewis College four years ago, she found the student union building to be mediocre and antiquated."There's not much in there except for a cafeteria, a bookstore and a place to lounge," said Gasper, a senior majoring in exercise science. "Everything is kind of small and packed in."
College administrators hope to change those first impressions with a new student union, which is set to break ground in April.
The $37.5 million building will include a 38,000-square-foot expansion and a total renovation of the existing building, for a total of 110,000 square feet.
That means more space for students, clubs and community events, Gasper said.
"The new one will have a lot more opportunities and a lot more places to hang out," she said. "It's going to be pretty cool."
The student union will be the centerpiece on campus, said Mitch Davis, FLC spokesman.
"You come to campus right now, and you don't see a flagship building," Davis said. "This new student union building will be the new flagship building of the campus.
"We're looking to show it off," he said. "It's going to be a big, impressive nice building. We want this building to be the gathering place for students."
College administrators pitched the idea for a new student union about three years ago. At first, some students were hesitant to approve a self-imposed fee to pay for it. But after visiting campuses in North Carolina, the student government approved the increase, said Steve Schwartz, FLC's vice president for finance and administration.
Students are paying an additional $12.75 per credit hour this year to fund the union. The fee eventually will increase to $17 per credit hour, which means a student taking 16 credits will pay $272 per semester. The fee will be in place for at least the next 30 years.
The FLC Foundation expects to raise $5 million for rugs, furnishings, computers and the electrical system, said Margie Dean Gray, executive director of the foundation. It also will keep the building looking nice and running well into the future, she said.
"We want to make sure we can support (students) in every way we can," Gray said.
The expansion is expected to be completed by the fall of 2010. The renovation of the existing building will be done in the spring of 2011.
Once complete, the student union will have enhanced dining options, including a bakery and a Rocket Grill (which will incorporate the old Rocket Drive-In neon sign).
For the first time ever, a pub will be located on campus, said Davis. College administrators decided it would be best to put a pub on campus to better monitor alcohol consumption and to cut down on drunken driving, Davis said. Several other colleges and universities also have pubs on campus.
A media center will house the student-run newspaper, college radio station KDUR, Durango Cable Access Television and Rocky Mountain PBS.
A movie theater will give students something to do during their down time.
Banquet and meeting spaces will be expanded to accommodate a variety of groups, conventions and family events such as weddings.
Schwartz said this is a good time to build the student union, because construction is slow and the college stands to receive favorable bids.
Other projects occurring at the college include an addition to Berndt Hall for biology and a 148-bed residence hall.
"It's a good spot to be in, in the sense that we have projects going," Schwartz said. "We feel the timing could be very good for us right now."