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Union Renovation FAQs with Rick Thomas


Why does the UWM Student Union need a renovation?

Simply put, because it is old and parts of it are falling apart or failing. The original Student Union was built in the mid 1950s. The building was added onto in 1963, 1972, and 1987. This means that the various parts of the building range from over 60 years old to almost 40 years old. Major building systems (think fire alarms, emergency generator, plumbing, heating/cooling/ventilation, electrical) have been requiring significant “band aid” maintenance and some have or are at risk of failure – the kind of failure that could result in the Union not be usable for extended periods of time. We need to fix a lot just to keep operating. 

The second reason is that when we compare our Union to the Unions on other campuses – especially our peers in the UW system – we don’t compare well. All the other UW system campuses have replaced or significantly renovated their Union buildings over the last 20 years. Additionally, students have been telling us (through 3 different planning studies over the past decade) that the current Union is not what they want. They have told us that the building feels cold, dark, and uncomfortable, that it is hard to navigate, and it isn’t a place they want to spend time – to most students it has become a transactional place rather than a community center. 

It is our hope that with this project, we both fix the building infrastructure AND improve the environment and usability of the Union for students. We want UWM students to be as proud of their Union facility as the students on other campuses are.

How is this Union renovation being funded?

Just as when the original Student Union was built and as with each addition since, the project will be funded primarily through student segregated fees. This is the method all UW system schools have used to fund renovations of their Unions.

Recognizing that the UWM Student Union would need either a significant renovation or major repairs (just to keep operating), the UWM Student Association approved the creation of a fee called the Union Capital Project Fee (also known as the Panther Union Reinvestment fee) for this purpose. That fee was first collected in the fall of 2015.  The fee was phased in over time to the current level of $75 per semester.

Because that fee began being collected in 2015, UWM has some cash on hand to directly fund part of this project. The rest is being funded through State of Wisconsin bonds (sort of like a mortgage on a home.) Going forward, the current $75 per semester fee will fund the debt service (sort of like mortgage payments) to pay off the bonds. Additional funding for the project came from a commitment of $1 million made by the UW Credit Union when they renewed their agreement with UWM in 2016.  Additional donor funding to go towards the project is being pursued by UWM.

How much will the current project cost?

The budgeted total project cost is $40.5 million.  “Total Project Costs” include: construction (what we pay contractors who do the work), architect/engineer fees (what we pay the architects, engineers and other consultants who guided the planning process and did the design), State Department of Administration fees (what we pay the State of Wisconsin department responsible for managing the project), furniture/fixtures/equipment (known as FFE – this portion of the budget funds all the new furniture and equipment that will be installed as part of the project) and project contingency (a set portion of the project budget held to fund any “surprises” or unexpected costs that arise during construction – very important when renovating an existing building.)

Was this Union renovation voted down in 2017?

No, the 2017 referendum was for a larger project which would have raised student fees significantly from the current level. This project is being funded by existing segregated fees without any increase.

What is going to change in the Union’s renovation?

There are things you will see and things you won’t notice but are, none-the-less, very important to the ongoing operation of the Union.

Things you will see:

  • Many new windows, especially on the south side of the building, which will replace current concrete and brick walls and bring lots of natural light into the building.
  • Clearer pathways to navigate this large building.
  • New finishes and furniture – which help modernize and make the building more comfortable.
  • New and expanded inclusive restrooms.
  • New locations for the Centers for Advocacy and Student Engagement areas (LGBT+ Resource Center, Women’s Resource Center, Military and Veterans Resource Center, Inclusive Excellence Center) and new homes for Neighborhood Housing, the Legal Clinic, Panthercard Office, Art Gallery, Lactation Room, Computer Center and the Center for Community Based Learning Leadership and Research.

Things you may not notice but are very important:

  • A new fire alarm system and fire suppression (sprinklers)
  • A new emergency generator
  • New air handling systems (heating, cooling, ventilation)
  • Roof replacements and repairs
  • Structural concrete repairs
  • Upgraded electrical and major plumbing systems
  • Improved energy efficiency

When will the Renovation begin?

It has already begun. As the fall 2021 semester ends, work that is visible to all building users will start to increase.

When will the Renovation end?

The project is scheduled to be substantially complete by the end of the fall semester in 2022. Some final details may be completed in early 2023 but as the spring semester of 2023 begins, we anticipate the renovated building will be fully open and operational.

Will the building close during the renovation?

The building will always be open during the fall and spring academic terms although parts of the building will be off limits to allow work to be completed. The project website will be a resource for following the progress of the project and knowing what areas might be closed at any given time. 

The full building will close during the summer of 2022 to allow the contractors to complete work that would be very disruptive to building users if it were to happen during the primary academic terms. Some areas will relocate to temporary quarters for the summer while others will move to virtual/remote operations.  The plan is for the building to reopen in time for the start of the Fall 2022 semester.

Will I still be able to get through the building during and after the renovation (South to North)?

Yes, while parts of the building will be closed off at various times, you will always be able to get through the building from the Ground-Floor (Kenwood Blvd. level) to the First-Floor campus level. Your path might be slightly different at times but generally it will be the same. When the building is closed during the summer of 2022, you will not be able to go through the building.

When the renovation is complete, you will find new and more logical pathways to get through the building both north to south (campus level to ground floor) and east to west (Maryland Avenue side to Mellencamp Hall side.)

Will I still be able to park in the Union during the renovation?

Yes, during the academic year the Union garage will remain open. The Union garage will be closed in the Summer of 2022 for a separate repair project in the garage (and while the rest of the Union is closed for the Union renovation work).

When will the Gasthaus reopen? Why is it closed, anyway?

The Gasthaus is closed because of renovation related work being completed in the space. If you went in there right now, you would see a huge hole dug around some of the building columns in the floor where work is being done to reinforce the footings and columns. This work is needed to support the additional weight of a new rooftop penthouse which will house new heating/ventilation equipment.  In the spring of 2022, the Gasthaus will see some renovations to improve its environment and update the sports bar audio visual systems.  It is hoped the Gasthaus will be able to reopen in the fall of 2022.

Where can I find out what is closed, and where I can find out how to reach the services I need?

Go to the tab on this website labeled “What is happening now” to see information about any current closures.