Student unions are the epicenter and core of college campuses, and this is no exception when it comes to the University of Florida. According to a statement given by the vice president of Student Affairs, Dave Kratzer J. Wayne Reitz Union serves more than 20,000 people every day.
The Reitz will be getting a facelift to accommodate the lack of versatility that it previously offered. However, the approach taken by Cannon Design, the company in charge of the project, is not your typical business plan.
Cannon Design is planning the new structure strictly with students in mind. Town hall meetings that were held on Monday and Tuesday aimed to engage students with the process and get their opinion about what the new union should look like.
Throughout the week, the Reitz featured pictures of other student unions from around the nation. Students were openly allowed to write their comments and discuss their ideas with the leaders of the design team.
“I think it’s a good idea to understand what we like and what we think is going to be functional. It’s really cool that they’re actually into what we want and changing things that way,” Alison Richardson, an agricultural education major, said.
With about 100,000 square feet of new space, 50,000 square feet of renovations to existing space and a $69 million budget, the developers said that remodeling should be finished in about five years.
“Their voice is being heard. We’re taking all this information and making a balance of the things they do like versus the things they don’t like and why,” said Luz Rosado, an assistant to the leaders of the team, said.
Joe Walker is apart of the team that Cannon Design has put together to allow the new building to become a reality. He is in charge of incorporating the design elements into the construction of the structure.
“The building has been pushed beyond its capacity – forever,” Walker said. “There’s many things that don’t work well in the union, from the facilities management side and from a student engagement side, and part of it is the fundamental organization of the building.”
There are two phases to the project: the expansion phase and renovation phase. Currently being planned, Walker said that by the beginning of December a conceptual design should be approved.
By mid-January, an advanced blueprint showing the final design for the new union will be available. Demolition of the Reitz colonnade will begin in June, and construction will start in the fall of 2013, just in time for the new academic school year.
While restoration will take place for at least two years, the project’s team has made sure that the union will be open and available to students and faculty. There is a significant amount of space that they are not touching and one of the team’s main concerns is accessibility, Walker said.