Student Union Renovations

What’s been done and what’s to come

Brina Sturm, Assistant Lifestyles Editor (She/They)

If you’ve been through the Union this semester, you may have noticed some major changes and renovations. Over the past nine months, the South Dakota State University Student Union has entered Phase II of its most recent renovation plan.

Phase I, which wrapped up in fall of 2019, primarily focused on the redesign and relocation of the Multicultural Center to the upper level of the Union, whereas the focus of Phase II has been on the main level of the Union.

“We split Phase II into two different sub-phases — Phase IIA and Phase IIB,” Jennifer Novotny, senior director of the Union, said. “Phase IIA involved updating the audio visual equipment in our upstairs meeting rooms to get us ready to potentially have students here for classroom space during the pandemic. … A lot of what we had in those rooms were standard pulldown screens and whiteboards. In some cases, there would have been a data projector in the ceiling. You’ll see a lot of those things re-envisioned in a modern digital format.”

Portions of Phase IIA were completed in spring of 2021. Frequent users of the upstairs lounge areas are sure to remember the plastic wrap and carts full of new technology being pushed from room to room. Staff was determined to keep spaces accessible to students.

“It was a pretty monumental undertaking to do the AV upgrades, so having a really minimally used building during COVID-19 was great,” Novotny said. “Back in 2004, when we renovated initially, we had to shut down this facility for a year. I lived through that, and I know that was really tricky. Our goal this time around was to keep students’ use of this facility high, even amidst these construction projects.”

Phase IIB incorporated a new look and feel to the main level of the Union with new wraps, paints, furniture and lighting.

“Phase IIB included finishing the renovations of the upstairs lounge spaces and beginning renovations on the market area seating and aesthetics,” Novotony said. “We worked diligently through the summer on a very aggressive timeline for construction. We had the intent that we would open up in the fall and be ready for students to return. There are a couple of items that are not yet completed, but they’re very, very near completion, and that would be our two restrooms on the second floor.”

One of the most recognizable changes to the Union would be that Main Street and The Market are now sporting the Jackrabbit colors of yellow and blue.

“We love SDSU. We want it to feel like SDSU when you walk into this building, not just another great building to hang out in,” Novotny said.

“The Union looks great,’’ Shelbi Patterson, a new-to-SDSU graduate student said. “It feels open but has plenty of space to hangout and sit. It’s welcoming, bright and open.”

Even with all of the new modern twists the Union has taken, some of the classic building structures have stuck around.

“We have students that have a real affinity to the history of this facility and the red brick, so there were a lot of really great conversations around how do we how do we still keep some of these old finishes that we really do treasure and love, and that the students in 1969 and 1970 started to build for us,” Novotny said. “We have worked really collaboratively with select groups and with the Student Association to meet the needs of all students. They suggested many of the updates and tested a majority of the new furniture.”

“I like the feel of The Market a lot more,” said Quincey Piper, a second-year student. “I don’t know how to explain it, but it feels more like a college — more like SDSU. Now it’s a comfortable place where I can socialize and meet new people.”

The future of the Union looks bright with both a planned Phase III and possible Phase IV occurring within the upcoming years.

“We are very much aware of the Volstorff Ballroom and Jackrabbit Room being a very high-profile setting for events,” Novotny said. “From (hosting) student events to off-campus and affiliated events, the space offers a really great size and capacity. There’s just so much that we can do in that space and that we have been doing in that space for the last 16 years. What we’ll see in the next phase is all of that being freshened up.

“I would also say there’s going to be a Phase IV which will address student engagement, student activities and student life. It’s still very much ambiguous, but what we do know is that students’ needs may not be completely met in the lower level.”

No matter what the future holds for the Student Union, it will continue to be a paramount location in the minds of SDSU students and faculty.

“We are always a work in progress here,” Novotny said.


Renovation Phases:

  • Phase I: Multicultural Center
  • Phase II:
    • A: Audio Visual, Classroom Space
    • B: Commons Updates
  • Phase III: Volstorff Ballroom
  • Phase IV: Student Leadership developments, lower level