UTSA’s new phase III project is expected to expand the University Center (UC) and bring many new amenities to campus.
The idea to expand the UC started when students expressed their desire to expand campus facilities.
Students voted to expand the UC at a referendum held three years ago.
John Kaulfus, the executive director of the UC and student activities, is overseeing the project.
Funding for the $25,000,000 project will come from student service fees. However, the UC fee will increase only after the building opens.
”The students will only be paying for what their using,” Kaulfus said.
The Dallas architecture firm, Perkins + Will, began the design process for the project two years ago.
”We went through a very intense design process, where we met with student groups, focus groups, faculty and staff,” Kaulfus said. “We went through a series of exercises to see what students even wanted, because it’s the students’ money and the students’ building.”
During the focus session, students clearly articulated their ideas on the function of the expansion.
”The one thing the students said is ‘we want this to be totally for us, we want everything in this building to be related to our happiness and success.’ So through that, the students said they wanted a bigger game room and a computer lounge,” Kaulfus said. “The student groups that are active said they wanted store front property, in a sense. So for example, SGA, Voices and Greek Life wanted areas that are front and center where you can see activity,” Kaulfus said.
Phase III will be located on what is currently parking lot 9. It will include a ballroom that can seat 650 people comfortably and will include seven meeting rooms that can accommodate 50-150 people each.
According to Kaulfus, the meeting rooms will be “all types of styles: lecture style, conference style, you name it.”
In addition, three student lounges will be added.
”There will be lots of pre-function space, and what that means is the lobby of the ballroom will be beautiful, but if there isn’t an event going on you can still go there, hang out and sleep on the couches,” he said.
According to Kaulfus, pre-function space may be used all the time.
”We just felt like the students on this campus told us they need more space to just hang and chill,” Kaulfus said.
No classes will be held in the new building.
On Feb. 15 in the UC’s Willow Room, Kaulfus and two architects met with students and faculty to introduce designs for the new building.
”If you look at the design, it creates a mini River Walk, with the bridges going over head and the Paseo winds through like a river. We wanted to capture the feel of the River Walk, so we’ll have venders out there,” Kaulfus said. “We’re going to add a Subway, a coffee shop with outdoor seating, and we will renovate a lot of our current space.
Phase III breaks ground in July and is expected to be complete in August 2008.
The project will decrease available parking spaces.
”It will affect parking, but there is a parking garage also, and a power plant will be built right behind Lot 9,” he said. “When it’s all said and done, we’ll have more parking than we’ve ever had in the future. In the meantime, there will be growing pains.”
Perkins + Will was chosen because the firm specializes in building student unions.
”We’re very excited about the project, we think it will bring a lot of life, a lot of energy to the campus, and really create a lexis and focus for it,” architect Daniel Day said.
”It sounds a little cheesy, but we actually like being a part of that. That’s what we do; we try to help create that life on campus and we do it through making buildings.”
According to Kaulfus, the location of the Tomas Rivera Center will be transformed into retail space. A bank, dry cleaners, post office and hair salon will be added.
”[We’ll be adding] things that will help students so you can come, go to class and if you have an hour then you can go and get your hair-cut,” Kaulfus said. “Even though they’re starting to build around us with the shops at La Cantera, it’s still pretty isolated around here. A lot of our students live in San Antonio, so why not maximize your time.”
Students will help determine the types of retailers for the space.
”We’ll take the vote once the new building opens and the space becomes available, because the Tomas Rivera Center still has to move.” Kaulfus said. “We’ll ask students what exactly they want. We’ll let students decide what goes in there; it’s you’re building.
”I think what is exciting is that three years ago, students said, ‘We want this place to be a better place than it was for us.’ And they voted to do this. Then, probably five to six years later, the students will be able to benefit from what they did.” Kaulfus said.
”Hopefully, this group of students will vote on phase IV, which is more of a vision; it will expand the ballroom, include a theater or a place where we can have plays, concerts and a lot more meeting rooms and more space for student organizations.
”Phase IV is to come in the future, but that’s up to the students and if they say they want it. This is an exciting time at UTSA, I know they are doing the football feasibility study and I think that in 10 years we are going to come back and be like, ‘wow this is a different place.’ Of course the Rec is doing phase II and housing is doing phase II right now; this is all going on at the same time.”
Students will be able to follow the project’s headway on a web site the university will provide this summer.
”It will have virtual tours of the new building, and we’re going to have a web cam so you can see the progress of the new building from your computer,” Kaulfus said. “We’re also going to have chat rooms and idea rooms; it will be very interactive. We want it to start when construction starts. When we have the ground breaking, we want the web site to be up.”
”I am convinced the building will become a very dynamic hub for the student campus,” architect Jeff Stebart said.
”The Paseo space will be such an active and engaging space, I think it will become a magnet for everyone to come. It will be a place for everyone to be, and to be seen.”