By Silas Allen
STILLWATER, Okla. —
Mitch Kilcrease walked down a flight of stairs at the Oklahoma State University Student Union Thursday afternoon to find a family with confused looks on their faces.
“Can I help you folks?” he asked.
The family asked how to get to the bookstore. Kilcrease directed them to the store and watched as they made their way through the construction site. Even for people who were familiar with the building last year, the Student Union can be difficult to navigate, he said.
Monday marks the first day of classes for OSU students, and even as students return to campus for the fall semester, work continues on the renovation project at the Student Union. Some of the Student Union’s services, including the bookstore, have already reopened. Others, including hair salons and banks on the bottom floor, are expected to open this week, said Kilcrease, OSU’s Student Union director.
From the beginning, the project was intended to be phased, Kilcrease said. Crews expect to be working on the project through the fall, he said, and expect to finish before December, at which point they will begin renovation work on the ballroom.
“We’re definitely a lot closer than we were a year ago,” he said.
The project includes a complete overhaul of all the mechanical systems in the building. The building’s infrastructure hadn’t been updated since the building opened in 1950, Kilcrease said, so the upgrades will mark a drastic change. Following the renovation, the building will be a good deal more energy efficient, he said.
Kilcrease compared the infrastructure upgrades to making modifications to a car. The upgrades are so comprehensive, they’re akin to removing the radiator cap from the car, replacing everything under it and screwing the cap back on, he said.
One of the more difficult aspects of the project has been trying to keep the same services open even as the facility has been closed. Several of the Student Union’s services, including the bookstore and fast food shops, were relocated to a U-Too, a temporary building just off the Edmon Low Library lawn.
Several offices that are normally housed in the Student Union were moved to other buildings around campus, including the basement of the Classroom Building. As sections of the project are completed, certain offices and services will be moved back into the Student Union, Kilcrease said.
“It’s like a big Jenga puzzle,” he said.
Once the project is complete, Kilcrease said, the arrangement of offices will change. Before the project began, coordinators conducted a survey to find out what students thought was the building’s greatest asset. Students overwhelmingly responded that they most valued the Student Union’s campus life programs.
As such, he said, the university’s campus life programs, including Fraternity and Sorority Affairs and Student Government Association, will move from the basement of the building to the second floor. The move is designed to give those organizations a more prominent space to reflect the value the students place on them, Kilcrease said.
As excited as he is about the project, Kilcrease acknowledged the construction itself can make life difficult, especially during the enrollment process at the beginning of the year. Last week, staffers were stationed at various points around the building to help students navigate the construction sites.
As for Kilcrease, his is one of a few offices that has remained in the Student Union throughout the project. It’s easier that way, he said — it gives him a chance to see the construction progress from one day to the next.
“It’s like being the captain of a ship,” he said. “I was going to go down with it.”