Student Union under a microscope: SA funding Union space study

The Student Union will be undergoing a space study to determine the functionality of space in The Union and how it could change.

By EMILY De WAARD News Editor

The Student Union will be undergoing a space study to be complete in a few months to determine the functionality of space in The Union and how it could change.

In fall 2016, Students’ Association approved using General Activity Fee (GAF) dollars to fund the study after their plan for a Union expansion was denied by the South Dakota Board of Regents.

“Although we had received good feedback on the plan and felt the session with SDBOR was very positive back in October when we presented it, we were told a Union expansion was not plausible,” former SA president, now Vice President Ally Helms said.

Helms said SDBOR cited “stagnant enrollment” numbers at South Dakota State for rejecting the plan. Flat enrollment has resulted in negative debt ratios, meaning there would not be enough students attending SDSU to justify the cost of expanding The Union.

SA Finance Chair Nick Lorang said additional reasons for not expanding The Union include construction of other event spaces, such as Club 71 in the Dana J. Dykhouse Stadium.

The study is being conducted by Cannon Moss Brygger (CMB) Architects from Des Moines, Iowa. Principal architect Rob Smith and Matthew Erion, associate principal from CMBA, spent two days on campus in sessions with students, faculty, staff and student organizations.

Smith said the number one concern he heard throughout these sessions is “optimizing The Union for student interaction.”

The biggest challenge, Smith said, is “so many organizations want to engage with students on the main level.”

Helms said a main focus for SA in this process is the Multicultural Center. The reason for either an expansion or renovation is “to give them the space they need to function, let them be a visible part of this university and show how critical they are,” Helms said.

The Multicultural Center is currently located in the lower level of The Union. For several years, students have regularly voiced concern with the lack of space and visibility the area provides for the function and services of the center, Helms said.

Recent SDSU graduate and intern in the Office of Multicultural Affairs, Geraldine Vincent, said the Multicultural Center has several functions that are difficult to facilitate in the space given. 

The center serves as a communal space for all students and houses disability services, National Student Exchange, Black Student Alliance and Latin American Student Association.

Because the space serves so many students and groups, Helms said it has been a desire for years to move it to the main level of The Union for greater visibility and accessibility.

Vincent said visibility is a major concern with the center right now.

“Admissions brings people on tours all the time but they never bring them down here,” Vincent said. “So many students don’t know where the center is, or that there even is one. Minority or international students can feel out of place and need a community of students who feel like you, but the school doesn’t show that those organizations are here.”

In addition to the multicultural center, Helms said providing efficient space for student organizations in The Union, as well as the Volstorff Ballroom, are also priorities. 

Helms said the space study is student-funded by the GAF, which allows students to “retain autonomy” over The Union.

“This is our building … We want to make sure we can do what we want — not just Students’ Association, but all students — for this building,” Helms said.

According to Helms, student opinion was important in preparing for the space study and Smith said he left the sessions with a positive outlook.

“We were blessed with all the students who shared their passion for making The Union the best it can be,” Smith said. 


UPDATE: This story was edited to clarify information about the space study April 15 at 9:18 a.m.