With a rising student population at Binghamton University, seating options throughout the University Union have become sparse. To address this issue, BU’s Physical Facilities and Union staff are planning renovations to the basement of the complex beginning next summer and carrying into fall 2019.
The project was conceived in 2015, when a consultant was asked to examine the layout of the University Union. According to Suzanne Howell, director of Residential Life and associate dean of students, administrators wanted to gain better understand of how people were using the building space and determined the basement was not being used to its full potential.
“A presentation was given after the consultant came in for next steps,” Howell wrote in an email. “This year, when it was decided we had capital funding, we began planning meetings with [Union] staff, Physical Facilities and the SA.”
According to Howell, she and Randall Edouard, interim dean of students and assistant vice president for student affairs, have discussed renovating the Union’s basement with several Student Association (SA) presidents over the past three years. This semester, as the project began to solidify, the SA Executive Board has served in an advisory role, meeting biweekly with Howell and Peter Nardone, general manager of the Union, to discuss project updates and provide student feedback.
“The goal is to creatively enhance community and student space to meet our growing needs, understand some of the operations of the Union, compare it to other Unions and maximize the current space utilization in all areas,” Howell wrote. “Based on the feedback we received, it was determined that we’d focus on renovating the basement.”
At the annual State of the SA address held on Monday, Nov. 12, the SA E-Board announced the $2 million campus renovation, among other projects. According to Jerry Toussaint, SA president and a senior majoring in philosophy, politics and law, the project to renovate the Union is just one part of a larger University initiative to revamp the entire campus and ensure that all of its spaces are being utilized to their fullest capabilities.
“The basement project looks to change the dungeon-like feel of the University Union basement,” Toussaint said. “To create more of a see-and-be-seen space for students, similar to the Marketplace and University Unions at other universities.”
During spring 2018 SA elections, Toussaint ran for SA president on a platform that included reclaiming the University Union as a space for students, a promise the basement renovations may help him fulfill.
“I believe this project is necessary for our campus, as it will provide more spaces for students to relax and interact with one another outside of the Marketplace,” Toussaint said. “With such limited seating in that area, it is important more spaces are created so students are not as prone to immediately return to their dorm or apartment.”
The current plan includes tearing down walls to replace them with glass sliding walls, creating a more open space in the bowling area while combining the billiards room, table tennis room and hallway to accommodate players and spectators in the game areas. Despite the wall removals, the new space will include a few enclosed study areas for privacy. There will also be expanded and more relaxed seating options. In November, students were offered the opportunity to view and vote on furniture and provide responses to be taken into consideration by project managers.
Additionally, the current plan will work with the Food Co-op to install a moveable wall in the space. The Food Co-op will keep its current tables and chairs, but will receive updated kitchen appliances.
Kevin Darrell, SA vice president for finance and a senior double-majoring in accounting and mathematics, said he helped plan the renovations and is excited to see the finished product.
“I believe the idea to transform such a central space on our campus into a location where students can meet, hang out and study, among other things, is a great idea,” Darrell said. “I’m graduating this year, so I will not be on campus full-time to see the new changes next year, however, I am looking forward to visiting and seeing how the students like these changes.”
However, some students expressed mixed feelings on the plans. Daniel Devlin, a junior double-majoring in history and classical and Near Eastern studies, said he thinks the renovations are a great idea.
“I think it’s great that they’re adding more space, and I’m glad they’re supporting the Food Co-op,” Devlin said. “They should try giving it more exposure, though, because it’s a really great idea, but not in a very popular location.”
But others were hesitant to embrace the changes, especially the Food Co-op renovations. Ava Glasser, a senior majoring in environmental studies, said the renovation plans should leave the Food Co-op as it is.
“It’s a space with so much history,” Glasser said. “It was made by students, for students, and renovating it will be such a loss for the school. It’s a very unique and cherished place on campus for those who go there, and changing it will make it lose the charm it’s always had.”
Glasser also questioned the necessity of the renovations, and said the money could be better spent elsewhere.
“The libraries just took a big hit in terms of funding, as did the fine arts department,” Glasser said. “I think it’s unnecessary to spend $2 million to completely replace all the furniture when it’s pretty much brand new.”
Toussaint said he expected some pushback on details of the renovation plans, which is why the SA E-Board aimed to collect feedback from students.
“I think some students will be reluctant of the renovations initially because of the issues certain groups will have accessing their spaces in the basement,” Toussaint said. “Overall, however, once the renovations are finished, it is my hope that the basement could become another big social spot for students to interact, taking some of the high volume of students typically concentrated in the Marketplace.”
Darrell said he hopes the University will continue to seek the feedback of the general student body throughout the implementation of the project.
“When the new space opens, some students may have great ideas on how a procedural element could be improved, such as reserving a space or possible quiet hours for studying,” Darrell said. “Being that the space will be so new, I think it is important for the University to gather student feedback so that students’ concerns are heard and can be acted upon.”
The renovations are scheduled to be completed by Dec. 1, 2019.