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Friday, June 14, 2024
Terrace renovations will benefit all

Jaime Brackeen

Terrace renovations will benefit all

I think ASM is starting to over-do the whole ""voice of the students"" thing. They have recently included this mantra into their opposition statement to Memorial Union Reinvestment (MUR) project, which will make renovations and additions to  Memorial Union in the coming months. But perhaps the slogan would be more appropriate if ASM considered the varied opinions of students.

MUR is a two-phase project that will make what the Union Council believes are much-needed improvements to the Union. I recently spoke with Student Project Manager Colin Plunkett about exactly what this entails and why the improvements are necessary for the almost 83-year-old building. According to him, age has a lot to do with it. The building currently functions on heating, ventilation, air conditioning and plumbing systems that boast over 70 years of service. ""I am shocked that they're still running,"" said Plunkett. ""It's really a testament to our maintenance staff that they're keeping this running.""

Renovations in the project would seek to upgrade those infrastructure systems and make them more sustainable. The Union's goal is to make the building Leadership Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifiable and thus environmentally friendly. This certification is highly sought after according to Plunkett, and Union South is currently in the process of attaining its own LEED certification. Being the progressive city and campus that we are, I see no reason why anyone should be opposed to a plan that reduces waste, promotes sustainability and improves the overall functionality of a frequently used building.

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Next on the renovation agenda is to make the building more accessible to everyone. According to Plunkett, there are 27 different levels throughout the Memorial Union's structure, but not nearly as many lifts, elevators or ramps to allow all visitors the chance to see many of the fascinating nooks and crannies the building has to offer. By modern standards, this lack of accessibility is not up to ADA accessibility guidelines—an absence ignored only because of the Union's historical value. Yet it is a testament to the Union's commitment to all members of the campus community that the council wants to fix these existing problems despite its grandfather privileges.

MUR will also bring the historic Union Theater up to modern theatrical venue standards by expanding the lobby space by approximately 3,200 square feet.


Opposition to the plan, specifically from ASM, has made a particularly big stink about this issue, insisting that this expansion will impose on the Terrace's drinking and lake-viewing space. ""At the end of the day, we're going to be paying more money to decrease the amount of space I have to get hammered on the Terrace,"" said ASM Representative Cale Plamann in a Sept. 15 Cardinal article about the expansion.

Yet Plunkett insists it would actually give students a more enjoyable Terrace experience given that the all-glass windows and panoramic view of the expansion, which will also function as a student lounge on nights when the theater is not in use, allowing students to continue watching sunsets and enjoying Lake Mendota even in the winter months. Should this not be enough to sway students, the expansion will also create a sunset deck atop the structure that Plunkett says will be open to the public year-round and won't be available for reservation. The benefits far outweigh the miniscule losses here, as Plunkett notes: ""We're not affecting the lower terrace space at all and we're actually increasing the upper terrace space by 2500 square feet.""

He also insists extensive studies have been done proving no additional shadows will be cast on the lower Terrace with the expansion, and students will lose only a small amount of sunlight during the months of April and October.

The reinvestment will also provide 7,000 square feet of increased space for Hoofers to house their six different clubs and make repairs to equipment like sailboats. For the entirety of the expansion budget, 18 percent will be backed by Union program revenue (beer, food, merchandise sales), 24 percent by donations from alumni and friends of the university and 58 percent is covered by student segregated fees. Yet the theater revamp, the focal point of the expansion plans, will be financed entirely by private donations.


Because students will be financing the majority of the overall project, however, it remains integral that students' voices be heard in the design process. In response to this necessity, Plunkett insists the Union is doing everything in their power to shape the project to fit student's interests and suggestions. The Union holds open forums on a near-monthly basis and all students are welcome to come and give their input at both these and other interest group meetings. Also, according to the MUR project website, nine students compose the Union Council, including the ASM chair and three appointed ASM members. Thus, how can ASM say they have not had ample opportunity to make the voice of the students heard if they're directly involved in the project?


Regardless of our ASM representatives' objections, students already passed a 2006 referendum proposing the rebuilding of Union South and the restoration of the Memorial Union on a vote of 1,691 in favor to 915 opposed. Because the creation of Union South has already been completed, attempting to stifle the renovation plans half-way would be counter-productive.


And for those concerned with preserving Memorial Union's traditional design, the Wisconsin Historical Society will be involved every step of the way making sure that the integrity of the building is maintained. Despite UW-Madison History Professor John Sharpless' statement that ""had the original architects wanted a ‘glass box' on the front of the theater, it would be there,""  Memorial Union must expand and adapt to the needs of larger audiences and modern necessities unanticipated by the original designers.

I love the Terrace, and I still think these renovations are a great idea. If ASM truly needs to have this re-vote, let's make our voices heard and tell them we love this sacred Madison landmark enough to let it grow.

Jaime Brackeen is a junior majoring in journalism.  Please send all feedback to

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