The University of Minnesota will begin construction Monday on a $2.5 million renovation of Coffman Union’s second floor, a three-month project that has some students excited and others concerned.
On Monday, a pile of unclaimed items was all that remained on the empty second floor — a stark difference from the usual chaos of the area that has historically housed office space for more than 30 student groups.
Under the new floor plan, only 12 groups have been allocated offices — with hundreds of other registered groups set to share two multi-use rooms.
The project is pending approval by the University Board of Regents on Friday, but is expected to pass.
Rebecca Huebsch, former Biology Without
Borders president, said the main loss for the group will be storage space, which the group used to stockpile boxes of international donations each semester.
Huebsch said she’s curious to see how much storage space will be available now that the group doesn’t have a dedicated office.
Eight large and 36 small storage lockers are planned in the multi-use space, said Student Unions and Activities director Maggie Towle. The lockers will be available to rent for daily use with some set aside for semester-long periods.
Meeting space within the multi-use areas will be reserved in a similar process with students allotting group time by online reservation.
The move-in date for the groups is slated for late August, with a ribbon cutting ceremony scheduled for February.
Towle said the shorter-than-normal timeframe increased costs for the updated space. The three-month timeline was necessary for students to be able to move back in by fall semester, she said.
The multi-million dollar project includes about $160,000 in contingency costs, Towle said, that will be returned to SUA and the University if it’s not needed.
Because all of the interior walls will be torn down, more than half of the expenses will be used on demolition, electrical and installation work.
A three-year process
Renovation discussions have evolved significantly since the University first started the project in 2010.
After the Student Services Fees Committee claimed the second floor wasn’t “viewpoint-neutral” and not inclusive of all groups, former Vice Provost for Student Affairs Jerry Rinehart began pushing for the renovation, according to an article published in the Minnesota Daily on August 8, 2012.
Towle said the multi-use spaces, which are new to the floor, were designed so that more groups would be able to meet in Coffman Union.
Outgoing Colleges Against Cancer President Katie Thibert said a representative from the group attended committee meetings, but the group won’t benefit much from the renovation.
“We were under the impression that we weren’t going to have an office regardless, so it wasn’t as advantageous for our group,” she said.
The renovation centers on three key points: having the space be more flexible, accessible and visible, which Towle said could make it easier for groups to recruit new members.
“As we’ve had these conversations over the last few years,” Towle said, “the student groups got excited about how much more successful their groups will be by having this nice open, collaborative space.”
The renovation plan, which she said was completely student-run, was headed by the SUA Board of Governors, the Second Floor Advisory Committee and a committee that represented groups without dedicated office space.
Huebsch said groups were invited to openly share their concerns about the transition and what they wanted from the new space.
“We really appreciated that they tried to include us in the whole process,” Huebsch said.
Architectural and interior design firm Studio Hive also sat down with committee members to discuss specific changes to the floor plan.
Bringing in natural lighting and opening up the space was a main objective of the renovation, with removable floor-to-ceiling glass walls as a main fixture of the design.
According to Towle, the walls will make it possible to “change the nature of the second floor very easily.”
Currently, groups that are active in the summer have office space in Kolthoff Hall classrooms, and discarded items from the move-out will be given to the University’s ReUse Program.