As returning students step on campus for the first days of classes, some may notice that a portion of the University Union basement is closed. As renovations take place behind the barriers, some clubs and organizations that operate in the basement are displaced, leaving the groups to adjust to delays and changed renovation plans.
The plans for the University Undergrounds’ renovation were finalized in fall 2018 and put into motion at the beginning of the summer after students had mostly vacated campus. Originally, the expected completion date was Dec. 1, 2019, but the project has hit delays that have postponed the basement’s reopening until after winter break.
Suzanne Howell, director of Residential Life and associate dean of students, and Pete Nardone, general manager of the University Union, wrote in an email that construction will include renovations to the bowling lanes, opening up with the recreational space completely, repurposing the table tennis room, billiards room and computer lounge, and making new games available in a new entertainment area to be called ‘The Den.’
“The University Union is currently undergoing a rebranding initiative, and the entire basement area will now become ‘The Undergrounds,’” Howell and Nardone wrote. “Additional spaces include a collaborative learning space, renovated Food Co-op, more open space and renovations to the Undergrounds Lounge, formally known as the Undergrounds.”
Zoë Leone, kitchen manager at the Food Co-op and a junior majoring in environmental studies, said because they will no longer have their space in the basement, the Co-op will be focusing on holding events in coordination with other multicultural organizations, tabling, planning sustainability events with farms in the community and holding bake sales elsewhere on campus.
“It’s going to be hard this semester, because I see the Co-op as my second home,” Leone said. “Despite this change, the fall semester is giving us plenty of time to plan for a strong return in the spring semester. One thing I’m looking forward to is more foot traffic through the basement after construction, thus more people to become a part of the Co-op community.”
Binghamton Late Nite is also exploring other options. Manali Parchure, an event coordinator for Late Nite and a senior majoring in integrative neuroscience, said Late Nite will be using lecture halls for movie showings and shifting their food locations to accommodate their typical events.
“We knew it would be a challenge when we found out last semester, but we were fine with it since it was told to be ready for spring 2020,” Parchure said. “Personally, I used to go to the Undergrounds to study most of the time, so now I need to find a new study spot.”
The Union staff has installed banners around the Tillman Lobby stairwells with the Union’s rebranding, highlighting key parts of the renovation. Because many students come to the Undergrounds for studying, part of the renovation plans include adding more seating options.
“Although the Undergrounds Lounge is offline for the fall semester, in addition to a few other seating locations in the basement area, the Union staff has made an effort to remove several high-top tables and seating areas that previously existed in the basement area to the first floor of the Union,” Howell and Nardone wrote. “With the renovation, a significant amount of seating options will be made available for students, including more seating in the open space, additional seating in the Undergrounds Lounge and the study room will be back online as well — this was the space next to the Meal Plan Office.”
Past Student Association (SA) Congresses have had a hand in the planning for the renovation project, collecting feedback from students to understand what is needed from a renovated space. Current SA President Emma Ross, a senior double-majoring in political science and psychology, said the project’s goal is to create a fun, vibrant place where students will want to spend time on campus.
“I am excited to have a new space on campus to hang out,” Ross said. “It will be to have the basement be a warmer and bright place for students.”