By our students, for our students

Students and parents walked through the new Student Union on move-in day.
Students and parents walked through the new Student Union on move-in day.

UMKC’s new Student Union opens

When students return to campus this week, they will be greeted with a bird’s-eye view of Kansas City’s Country Club Plaza, a new theater, new restaurants and ultimately, a 109,000-square-foot new Student Union.

With a student body of approximately 14,500 and continuously increasing enrollment, students have outgrown the UMKC University Center. To support increasing enrollment and UMKC’s transformation into a residential campus, the new Student Union opened Friday, Aug. 20.

Located near UMKC’s residential halls at 51st and Cherry Streets, the $38.3 million Student Union features a green roof terrace and wide floor-to-ceiling windows with views of the Country Club Plaza, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and UMKC’s Stanley H. Durwood Soccer Stadium and Recreational Field.

A sustainable example

Anticipated to obtain LEED Silver certification, the facility features public transportation access, storm water control, natural lighting, skylights, high ceilings, a central stairway and a 6,300-square-foot multi-purpose area that is divisible into four rooms.

Other features include:

  • A food court with four dining venues chosen by students – Chick-fil-A Express, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill, SubConnection and Jazzman’s Cafe & Bakery with a performance stage area
  • A two-story bookstore
  • 10,000 square-feet of space dedicated to student organizations
  • 329-seat theater
  • Open three-story skylit central stairway

“The Student Union will provide an anchor of excitement located just adjacent to the residential halls and the Stanley H. Durwood Stadium,” said Nick Clark, School of Medicine student and Student Union building designs and operations student chair. “It will foster a ‘home-away-from-home’ feel for those living on campus, but will facilitate much-needed interaction with non-residential students, as well!”

A dream come true

The main level offers a variety of gathering spaces.

The main level offers a variety of gathering spaces.

Because the University Center was built in 1961 for a student population that was 75 percent smaller, students have struggled to find meeting and event spaces.

In the mid-2000s, Nick Clark – now a School of Medicine student – noticed this lack of space and worked with other students and the administration to plan a new Student Union. The first plan for a new Student Union did not pass a campus-wide vote, but the second plan passed in 2007.

“One of the great parts about this process was that the whole building got started with just five or six students,” Clark said. “So the future generations of students will know that if you have an idea, bring it to the table and see what happens. Anything can happen. I never expected a $38 million dollar building to come to life, so it’s exciting for me.”

The Student Union project was funded through $1 million in private funds, $500,000 in campus reserves and $36.8 million in revenue bonds. The debt will be serviced through student fees approved by students in a November 2007 referendum.

“The new Student Union was brought to campus by our students, for our students,” said Mel Tyler, UMKC vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management. “This is an exciting project that will provide all students a place to call their own and is a major milestone in achieving UMKC’s goal of placing student success at the center of all we do.”

Using the design-build approach, McCownGordon worked with architecture firm Gould Evans to design and build a four-story student union. UMKC College of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Architecture, Urban Planning and Design alumni contributed to the design of the New Student Union, as well.

A new era

In the past 77 years, students have gathered in the following places:

  • In the 1930s, students gathered at a cafeteria in Haag Hall.
  • In the 1940s, students listened to the jukebox and played card games in a greenhouse known as the Kangaroost. The Kangaroost also featured a snack bar and the university’s bookstore. In 1947, the Kangaroost moved to Swinney Recreation Center.
  • A few years after World War II ended, students began gathering in a surplus Army barracks near the University Playhouse. With wooden walls decorated with lanterns, wheels and moose heads, the barracks primarily functioned as a dining area. It also played host to theme parties, dances and musical performances.
  • In 1961, the three-floor University Center opened to serve a student population of 3,600. In the 2000s, student organizations struggled to find space at the 100,000-square-foot University Center. It will continue to offer meeting space, dining services, a barber shop, campus information center and student service offices, including One Card, Year 1 and 2 Medical Advising, Students with Disabilities and Mind-Body Connection.

With a strong focus on technology, sustainability and an increasingly residential campus, UMKC’s new Student Union is ushering in a new era.

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