The Story of the Current Union Renovation

“A Student Union on any college campus is, at its core, a community center for all of campus but most importantly for students. It is a place for students representing all segments of the campus to come together, to eat, to attend programs and events, to learn through involvement, and to simply have fun. The UWM Student Union has been serving this role on campus since the original part of the building opened in 1956. With additions in 1963, 1972 and lastly in 1987 the Union grew to serve UWM’s expanded student body. Generations of students have made memories inside these walls.” says Richard Thomas, Director of Union.

Because student fees paid for the construction of the facility and pay most of the operating costs, it is more than any other building on campus, “owned” by the students. Additionally, the UWM Student Union houses a collection of resource centers, offices and services. “We want to be a welcoming and inviting environment”, says Mike Schmit, Associate Director for Operations.

The UWM Student Union mission is to “[provide] programs, services and facilities to UWM students to help them find community, build relationships and make memories that support and complement their academic journey”.

Although the Union was expanded in 1963, 1972 and 1987, no significant modifications or improvements have occurred in almost 40 years. Age has taken its toll despite continuous efforts to provide both preventative and repair services. Parts of the building are out of style, some function poorly, and others have exceeded their expected “life”. If no change happens, the Union will not run properly, and its mission may be compromised.


Improvements concerning the infrastructure of the building are some of the most important parts of the renovation project, although many students may not notice them once they are completed. Air handling (heating and cooling), electricity and water systems need to be rehabbed and replaced in order to just keep the Union functioning. A new emergency generator will be added outside between the Union and Lubar School of Business. A new fire alarm system will be installed, and new fire suppression system (sprinklers) will be added to parts of the building.

Associate Director Schmit describes these renovations as “the heart and lungs being replaced”. Without these renovations, problems like power outages, flooding and elevator failure could arise. While these renovations are not necessarily visible, they will greatly improve the functionality of the building, allowing its systems to support current and future students.


While the functional renovations are important, students want to experience changes they can see and feel. Dr. Eric Jessup-Anger, Associate Director for Student Involvement at the Union, believes that these types of renovations will make the Student Union, which can feel cold and impersonal, “a more uplifting place… psychologically and emotionally”.

Furniture will be replaced and rearranged to increase comfort and convenience. Added windows will let in natural light to brighten spaces, while better use of color will provide a splash of school spirit. The architects have also selected building materials, like transparent glass and natural wood, that will help the renovated spaces feel warmer, more open and welcoming. These improvements are sure to help students feel cozier, even in the heart of a Wisconsin winter.

Improved Wayfinding

The Union, while offering many resources and services for students, can be difficult to navigate. With its claustrophobic hallways, inconsistent naming for both floors and rooms, even returning students struggle finding where they need to go.

The renovation lays out improved building circulation that will be much more streamlined and easier to navigate so students can access resources, activities, and services in the Union without confusion and anxiety. Traffic patterns will be more logical and simplified. Some resource centers will be relocated so they are closer together and easier to find, helping serve students better by providing one area where they can seek information. A number of professional staff offices will be clear to locate, more hallway routes and entrances will be added, and some collaboration spaces will be renovated to provide a more inclusive, spacious area that supports team environments, group study and more interaction.

Renovation Disruptions

Rick Thomas, Director of the Union, believes that while the renovations to the building will certainly improve the Union experience, this “progress has a price”. Entrances, hallways, offices and activity centers may be rerouted and relocated during the renovations. Workers will try to keep noise levels minimized during academic hours. Sections of the building may be closed temporarily while undergoing construction and resources may be moved to different places throughout the building or the campus. To gain a better understanding of service and resource availability during the renovation, check out our timeline.

The building will close during the summer of 2022, and for six weeks in summer of 2023; but many resources and services will be available for students to use either virtually or in a different location on campus. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many resources to move to an online space for the past year, a change that will prove useful as renovations require temporary closures of parts of the building. The renovation project is expected to be completed in August 2023.

Continue to visit this website to stay updated on the Union Renovation Project!