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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Designs in development for MU expansion project

Students have long anticipated getting the ASUCD Coffee House back next fall, but some will be surprised to hear that the bookstore and Memorial Union games area (MUGA) may soon be undergoing similar renovations.

These changes are the result of the MU expansion project, a project considered four years ago during the master planning step of the Coffee House expansion project, said Brett Burns, executive director of auxiliary enterprises.

The project aims to increase lounge space, meeting space, retail space, and the size of the bookstore in an attempt to accommodate a much larger student population than the university had in 1955 when the MU was originally built.

“The goal is to make the MU more relevant with the times [so that] it is the main destination for students on campus,” Burns said. “And we’re pretty proud because we are doing this without having to raise student fees.”

Income reserves will be the primary source of funding and will serve as a down payment for the project, Burns said. Ensuing debt service will be paid with future income from auxiliary enterprises such as bookstore and games area revenues. In addition, what was initially a $30 million project has now been downsized to $26 million, Burns said.

However, the $4 million that was cut from the project comes from basement area operations, a fact that games area patrons were quick to notice.

Maxine Low, creator of the SAVE MUGA! Facebook group, pointed to what she felt was the games area’s significance to students.

“It’s a place to socialize, unwind and make friends,” she said. “And I’d argue that it’s the only place in all of Davis really like this. [Because of that], I think it’s equally as important as the bookstore, if not more.”

Low, a senior biochemistry major, received an e-mail last month intended for members of the unofficial billiards club that said the games area would be undergoing remodeling and that the billiards room would suffer most. She sought further details by contacting Burns, who told her that preserving the games area was a priority and that the program would stay, but that the room would likely get smaller.

But, as Burns argued, it’s hard to please all parties.

“Everybody wants more space,” he said. “But we have a finite amount of funding. We compile this wish list with everyone’s wants, then we have to synthesize it down to what we can actually afford.”

When the plan was first proposed, it included an expansion of the games area as well, Burns said. But the when the budget was finalized, it could no longer include the improvements to the games area. The principal concern was maximizing the space for the bookstore’s textbook section downstairs so as to meet Americans with Disabilities Act standards.

According to Burns, the bookstore currently achieves this by “borrowing” space from the billiards area to house textbooks during the first few weeks of rush every quarter. This flexible space is what the project hopes to improve upon so that it can expand or contract depending on need.

Nick Sidney, chair of the Campus Union Advisory Board that provides student input into the MU expansion project’s planning process, explained what he felt was actually a positive situation.

“The MUGA was never going to go away,” Sidney said. “[But the bookstore] needs that ‘flex space.’ It’s amazing that [this project] will offer more space for studying, and lounges and more services from the MU. It’s really a win-win situation.”

ASUCD senator Justin Gold, who also sits on the advisory board, agreed with Sidney but stressed how essential it was for project planners to heed the requests of students.

“This [project] has been a long time coming,” Gold said. “But [the organizers] must be responsive to students and ask what they think. I’m really looking forward to seeing the new MU. I think it will be a beautiful place and an asset to the university, but the necessary steps must be taken to preserve the game space.”

In order to ensure students’ opinions are represented, Low remains in contact with Burns and members of the advisory board. Although a date has yet to be set, they have agreed to hold a public “town hall” meeting in which students may voice their concerns or support for the current designs.

Burns maintained optimism that Chancellor Linda Katehi will approve the project soon so that construction can commence by next fall. He estimates that construction will last approximately 18 to 24 months.

Nevertheless, Low hopes that negotiation will prevail.

“A lot of people don’t want to compromise,” she said. “But nothing seems finalized yet. It’s all still up in the air. I’m confident that everyone will be satisfied with the end product.”

KYLE SPORLEDER can be reached at campus@theaggie.org.

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