Mapping out the new University Center
After more than seven years of planning and a year and a half of construction, the New University Center is open for business this month.
From the design process down to the funding, the New UC was primarily a student-fueled project, replacing the original building, which was torn down in 2012 because of its poor physical condition as well as a need for a larger space to accommodate a student population that has nearly doubled since the building opened in 1967.
Since 2007, members from the Student Government Association and other students have been strong advocates for the project, said Keith Kowalka, assistant vice president for Student Affairs.
“So when we … went to a construction company and looked at chair options or carpet options or wall color options … students were at the table when the staff and the administration drew it together. So it was a really student-centered project. Students really had a hand in every nook and cranny, from the chairs to the floors to the fixtures to the lighting to the roof fabric of the building.”
In May 2011, a $135 UC fee was approved by SGA for the fall and spring semesters of that year in order to pay for the $80-million building. A $67.50 fee was added to the summer semester, and the rest of the funding came through food and bookstore contracts.
“I think this is the best student union building in the country — definitely a Tier One facility for our students,” said SGA President Cedric Bandoh.
“It really brings that living room feel back to the campus, because with the UC under construction and with the way the old UC used to be, you probably didn’t have that place on campus to just go and hang out, but now you do; now it’s back with the opening of Phase 1.”
The New UC now serves as an effective hub for student involvement, from grabbing lunch to attending a meeting or concert.
The Daily Cougar, Student Video Network and Coog Radio came together in the fall to form the Center for Student Media, united under one space for better visibility and communication among the organizations and UH students. Coog Radio, previously an online-only radio station, now plays for students at the lounge spaces outside CSM.
SGA also has new senate chambers with an electronic voting system and a larger floor space for students to sit in on meetings.
“We’re just excited to have a chamber option for the campus, because even though it’s the SGA senate chamber, actually any group can reserve it through the Event Services Office when we’re not using it, which is most of the time,” Bandoh said.
Various fee-funded student organizations — such as the Veterans’ Services Office, LGBT Resource Center, International Student and Scholar Services Office, Center for Fraternity and Sorority Life, Center for Student Involvement and the Women’s Resource Center — moved to the New UC, where they are now housed in larger offices with more room for meetings and events.
Other student organizations have moved to a carrel space where they can host meetings, work and meet with other student organizations.
“We absolutely love (the new space),” said Sara Malani, assistant director of the Metropolitan Volunteer Program.
“We have so much more space to work than we did in our old offices, where we had to share with (Student Program Board) and (the Council of Ethnic Organizations.) That was great for collaborating — they were right there — but it’s great to have enough space and to have enough room for our entire board to work, so I think it’ll allow us to get a lot more work done and to get more done effectively.”
Dining Services presented a new food court with Chik-fil-A Express, Panda Express, McDonald’s and Starbucks, presenting more food options for students on campus. The New UC also boasts a 3,000 square foot theater, ballrooms, meeting areas and a new graphic design studio called Creation Station. The UC Games Room, originally slated to open next year, will open early with new bowling lanes and red-felted pool tables.
During the course of the month, various UC services will be holding open houses, such as Barnes and Noble on Jan. 28 and the Games Room on Jan. 30.
Phase 2 — consisting of the opening of the UH and Houston history site, the Legacy Lounge and new food options such as Freshii, Cougar Bite and Shasta’s — will be completed in January 2015.