New architectural renderings for the University Center renovation were unveiled at fall convocation. The project will include a student-centered core on the first floor, with a relocated Center for Student Enrichment, smaller bookstore and new student activity zone with a pub-style atmosphere. The second floor will feature a 12,000 square-foot ballroom/conference space and reconfigured Great Lakes Rooms. The most striking visual differences are the façade, composed mostly of glass instead of masonry to enhance the views into and out of the facility, and the contemporary canopy above the main entrance.
“The design is dynamic, modern, functional and represents the energy we have today at Northern,” said President Fritz Erickson during his convocation address.
Jim Thams of Engineering and Planning said the Center for Student Enrichment will move front and center—replacing the Peter White Lounge—to increase its visibility. The bookstore footprint will decrease a bit to make room for a student activity zone. It will feature a restaurant offering pub-style menu options and possibly beer and wine, a pool table, foosball, shuffleboard and electronic gaming. Outside of these spaces, there will be several open seating lounges, similar to the informal learning areas in Jamrich Hall.
“A larger veterans’ lounge, the North Wind office and some of Simply Superior’s operation will move back to where the Center for Student Enrichment (CSE) is now,” Thams said. “But Simply Superior will maintain a presence up front for people who walk in needing help planning banquets, weddings and other events. Next to that will probably be the Alumni Association, to raise its profile. Alumni will be able to easily support the Welcome Center in Gries Hall with the connector between the two buildings.”
Contractors will raise the roof of the second floor during the renovation, allowing for higher ceilings that current conference spaces lack. The ballroom will occupy the south wing facing the hospital. It will have an event capacity of 1,000, or can be subdivided into as many as five smaller spaces via portable partitions. Thams said the Great Lakes Rooms will shrink in size and be reconfigured, leaving some conference space in the east wing. The Charcoal Room will be converted to an open seating lounge.
“The campus-wide survey reaffirmed the planning for this project, especially the support for a larger conference space and ballroom, as well as the student activity zone,” Thams said. “One of the main questions we wanted the survey to answer was, if we build it, will they come? Overwhelmingly, faculty/staff and students said yes. The key to planning is to keep it within a five-minute walk radius. With The Woods bringing the core of housing closer to the academic mall than ever, the UC now falls within that. For visitors entering campus from Kaye Avenue, the branding on the facility is very impactful. It will be very obvious it's an NMU building."
Early plans for a north-end addition were abandoned, but Thams said the footprint of the renovated University Center will be larger than the current facility. The goal is to start the first phase—temporarily relocating the bookstore to begin the south wing demo and reconstruction—in spring 2018. The entire project is targeted for completion in summer 2019.