As UWM course enrollment kicks off, students are faced with questions about their futures – and whether they support increased segregated fees to go towards renovations and reconstruction of our student union is one of them.
Students voting have two options: vote yes or no. Voting “no” supports “funding continuous repairs with no improvements,” according to a student-wide email sent by the UWM Student Union, where voting “yes” supports “preserving what’s best addressing maintenance issues and making needed improvements.”
This increase would put segregated fees for UWM students at $199 per semester and would be in full effect as early as 2023. The earliest construction would begin is 2020. Repairs to the aging union may cost $34 million or more by 2024 if renovations are not made, and would likely increase as the building gets older and reconstruction prices increase with inflation.
The union, which rated a “D” for function and “F” for the condition in a UW System report rating similar UW System facilities, went up in the 1950’s and additions to the original structure took place in 1963, 1972 and 1988. Although in 2012 a student referendum for a new union passed by a three-to-one margin, the facility condition report did not occur until 2014, and consultation with the UW System Board of Regents did not begin until 2015-17. The architects and engineers who produced the pre-design study and facility condition report in 2014 confirmed the building’s low function and condition ratings.
A renovated and reconstructed union has been on the table for UWM for some time now. As other UW schools have upgraded their similar facilities, UWM’s union has remained largely the same – which is still impressive, as the building has lasted long past its expected lifetime.
“Our sister institutions across the system generally saw their Unions rated ‘A’ or ‘B,’” said Richard Thomas, UWM Student Union Director. “Which is no surprise since all of them have either built new buildings or done significant renovations of their student union facilities over the past fifteen years. “
A major UW System institution that UWM gets compared to often is UW-Madison, whose newly renovated Memorial Union fully reopened by September last year. UW-Madison passed a referendum about ten years ago to both demolish and rebuild Union South and fully renovate Memorial Union. Although this resulted in a $96 fee per semester per student, part of the funding came from donations.
“We hope that we can get some donations to support the UWM Student Union project but Madison had one big advantage we don’t have – over 75 years of history and alumni dedication to the Memorial Union,” said Thomas.
So although UW System Policy specifies that no UW System union, recreational facility or residence hall shall be paid for with taxpayer dollars, alumni and community donations may play a role in the renovation and reconstruction. However, as Thomas pointed out, UW-Madison has the advantage of its alumni historically adoring it.
While UWM may not have the alumni support that UW-Madison does, its union still plays an integral role, with about 22,000 people tracking through it each day during the academic year. UWM has a large commuter population, therefore the union provides a place for students who drive to school to go in between classes and programs.
According to the referendum, the union parking garage would remain open during construction.