Memorial Union renovations create campus hub
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 15:09
After Mike Luidahl graduated with a degree in university studies from NDSU in 1997, he returned to NDSU for a second major and is currently studying broadcast journalism. With years of wisdom and real world experience under his belt, he hopes to enlighten the student body by rewinding back to NDSU experiences from back in the day and describe how it differs now in his column entitled “RewiNDSU.”
One dictionary definition of the word union is “the state of being united,” and like most college campuses across the country, NDSU has a building dedicated to fostering this state of being. The Memorial Union has been serving in this capacity for nearly 60 years and its occasional transformations have helped it remain the place where students most come together.
The Memorial Union I got to know during the ‘90s has noticeably changed in physical ways, but the unifying atmosphere it provided then is still as prevalent and perhaps to an even greater extent. Although enrollment has since grown close to 50 percent and the building has expanded to accommodate that, it’s comforting how the overall feel is quite familiar despite the renovations and modernizations.
As a country more cohesive than ever following World War II, a push for a union, originated by students, began to gain momentum in 1946 and finally became a reality in 1953. Like it normally is for such undertakings, the tallest of the initial hurdles was the one of fundraising. Once current students agreed to give five dollars per term for this purpose, along with alumni donations, the planning could begin.
As mentioned by the Spectrum upon the grand opening, a further sense of closeness was created by the fact that all the money generated for construction was considered to have come from individual gifts given by both past and present students. This was thought to be a unique approach to establishing a union when compared to other universities that used other avenues in the form of loans or state grants.
“The building is indeed a beautiful structure of splendid material, sturdy construction and harmonious design. It is more than a place to rest, play or to study,” an anonymous staff writer wrote on the day of its dedication in October 1953. “With proper management it will develop in those who receive its advantages a sense of appreciation of both material and spiritual beauty.”
That eloquent statement comes across a bit too lavish for our more contemporary society of today, however, it was probably accurate. Much the same can be said for the periods of updating that Memorial Union has experienced throughout its existence. Very little, if any ‘50s interior décor remains and its outside appearance has followed suit in the different stages of transformation.
Some features of the union have been staples since its inception. The bookstore, bowling alley and game room are still main components, but it really has become much more as the number of student interests and needs have multiplied since the first floor plans were drawn up.
For example, the inclusion of one 27-inch television to a common area lounge as a noteworthy attraction was the earliest predecessor to the numerous larger LCD screens that have come to be expected.
Ten years after the base structure went up, a 40,000 square foot half- million-dollar addition was already being planned. Who knows what that translates to now when inflation is taken into consideration? Take that amount times four percent for 50 years in compounding fashion to arrive at a ballpark figure. Nonetheless, it was another big step taken amongst a handful of others that led up to making the union what it is today.
Fast-forwarding another decade it was found via research that Memorial Union use had become sparse. This was revealed in the analysis of a1973 survey conducted by architecture students Rich Strong and Rick Schlenker. They found that NDSU students desired more student lounges, study areas, a complete information area and a post office.
“The general feeling around here is that the Union is just another administration building in which the students don’t belong,” Strong said of their survey conclusions.
Whether the survey actually induced the type of renovations that would eventually take place, I can confidently say that I never felt there was a shortage of any of the above-mentioned amenities. The listed wants seemed to be adequately addressed during my years on campus just before Y2K as well as now.
Moving on into the ‘80s, student unions nationwide began to get more into the offering of services. NDSU’s union added recreation equipment rental and the campus’s first ATM machine. At the time, this new feature was referred to as a “24 automatic teller,” which was promoted as an advantage to students in giving them access to their bank account with a plastic card.
The next large addition, completed just in time for the ‘90s, provided for both entertainment event and technological needs of future students. This expansion saw the addition of Century Theater, a 550 person capacity ballroom and a 40-unit 24-hour computer cluster became realities.