Old Union to revert back to its original use as a student center
A present-day photo of the main Old Union building, above, shows an aging structure that has endured some wear and tear in the years since it was an ivy-covered women’s dormitory many decades ago.
BY RAY DELGADO
A $24 million facelift is planned for the Old Union complex that will create a larger and more cohesive White Plaza area and return the building to its original use as a student center.
The Board of Trustees recently approved plans to renovate the Old Union complex, a project that has been high on the list of university priorities as an effort to alleviate a lack of space for student activities. The project, which involves extensive renovations and systems upgrades to the Old Union building, the Nitery building and the Clubhouse, is tentatively scheduled to begin in the fall and should be completed in summer 2006.
The Old Union complex, which consists of three buildings constructed from 1915 to 1923 as a women's dormitory and the first campus student union, will be seismically retrofitted and reconfigured as a future hub of student activities. The buildings had been converted to administrative use in 1967 after the completion of Tresidder Memorial Union, and there have been several additions to the main building over its lifetime to accommodate administrative needs.
When completed, the new Old Union building will feature a large lounge space, a late-night café, an array of meeting rooms for student groups and a new home for the Office for Religious Life that will provide at least two new worship rooms for students. The Nitery building will still house El Centro and the black box theater in their current locations, with student publications occupying the upper two floors. The Clubhouse will continue to house the Native American Cultural Center and the Asian American Activities Center (which will move to the upper floor) and will be renovated to add additional meeting space. The ballroom in the clubhouse will be preserved and restored, and architects plan to add a terrace, a new entrance and patios so that the space will be more accessible from White Plaza.
"It probably is more than what the students expected," said Gene Awakuni, vice provost for student affairs. "When I talk to students, they are surprised to hear that the entire building is going to be used for student space."
Substantial site improvements are also planned for the campus areas that flank the Old Union complex as part of the 2004 Campus Center Exterior Space Plan, a two-year effort involving the university architect and planning office in conjunction with consultants, the University Committee on Land and Building Development, the Student Activities Space Task Force, student representatives and people who use the area. Generally, the plan calls for reorganizing the space to improve circulation, reduce asphalt, consolidate small pieces of unusable lawns and landscape, and create improved outdoor spaces suitable for the various programs identified by the users.
The most striking change will be the transformation of the western portion of Lasuen Mall that runs in front of Old Union from an asphalt thoroughfare into a grassy, landscaped sitting area that better connects the complex to the White Plaza area. Awakuni said he hopes that the finished design will create a Main Street feel for the plaza and serve as a magnet for students and staff who currently use Lasuen Mall simply as a thoroughfare. The plan would eliminate a small stretch of Lasuen Mall that is heavily trafficked by bicyclists. Awakuni said the change is necessary to help redirect bicycles around the area and to cut down on bicycle accidents in an area of campus that is heavily used by pedestrians.
The corner of the Clubhouse building that faces White Plaza will be reconfigured to include a terrace, patios and an exit that can be accessed from the ballroom and other areas of the building. Officials hope the redesign will help open up the Old Union complex and create a primary events zone in the White Plaza area.
Officials also plan to better define and improve the east-west corridors that lead to the plaza, paying particular attention to Panama Mall and Duena Street. The various entries to the campus center area also will be better defined to provide orientation, identity and convenient bike parking.
"We're trying to create a sense of a neighborhood," Awakuni said. "Right now White Plaza is so chaotic. It's unclear as to what are the purposes of White Plaza other than it being a thoroughfare to get from one place to the other."
Several administrative departments currently housed in Old Union will have to be either permanently or temporarily relocated once construction begins. The offices of Financial Aid and Undergraduate Admission will be permanently housed in the Bakewell Building after its renovation is complete in September, and administrators are still determining where to house the Registrar's Office, Student Financial Services, Housing Assignments, the ID card office and Residential Education, Awakuni said.
The Office of Student Activities will be moved from Tresidder Memorial Union to the second floor of Old Union to be closer to student activities and to respond more quickly to student needs. The offices of the Associated Students of Stanford University (ASSU) also will move from Tresidder to Old Union.
The renovations will give students more than 31,000 square feet of new space for activities, socializing and meetings within the complex. Although many plans for the space are still being formulated, Awakuni said there will be large communal rooms where student groups can prepare for events, as well as designated spaces for performing arts groups, pre-professional student groups, Greek organizations and class officers.
The ground floor of the building will be opened up to create a large living room space, with a late-night café situated next to it. Awakuni said a survey of resident advisers showed that many complained about not having a late-night gathering spot, something he hopes the café will become.
Although Awakuni will depart for a new job in Hawaii next month before the construction on Old Union even begins, he said he looks forward to returning to Stanford after the project is completed to see students once again using Old Union as their main gathering space.