“The coolest thing is that so many students participated in big and small ways,” says John Tienken, a former University of Illinois Springfield student trustee who is now a law student at the University of Chicago. Tienken is one of those students who contributed in a big way and was a driving force behind development of the UIS Student Union. The same can be said for many alumni and members of the community contributing in big and small ways. Thus far 225 people have donated to the Student Union. One gave $2, and many donated $10, $25, $50 and $100. Two donors each contributed $1.5 million. Collectively students, university leaders, faculty, staff and community members have rallied around building the Student Union, which UIS Chancellor Susan Koch calls the “new heart of the campus.”
The new Student Union, opening Jan. 14, encompasses 52,000 square feet, cost $21.75 million, and is located on the south end of the Main Quad. A two-story atrium with large glass windows provides views of the Colonnade to the north. The adjacent 25,000-square-foot outdoor plaza blurs the line between inside and out. Designed by Dewberry (Peoria) and Workshop Architects (Milwaukee), the new Student Union sits at the crossroads of the campus. A Student Union Committee, which included students, faculty, staff and university leaders, provided extensive input. The building was designed to be bright and spacious, visually transparent, student-centered, highly flexible, easily navigated, contemporary and contextual, simple and elegant. It is an icon for the campus and the entire University of Illinois system. The building represents a commitment to the long-term growth of the Springfield campus, with sustainability as a central design feature.
Until now there has been no central gathering place for students at UIS, no dedicated space for student organizations, no place for students to hang out between classes. The only places to meet were the cafeteria, lobbies of academic buildings or small lounges in out-of-the-way locations. Features of the new Student Union include a Student Leadership Center, multiple lounge areas, diverse dining options, a Starbucks, large ballroom for university and community events, and large and small meeting areas and conference rooms. The open and airy floor plan is warm and inviting, conducive to small and large group gatherings. There are adjacent spaces that are more secluded for studying or private conversations.
The Student Union is not just a new campus building and a nice place for students to hang out and drink coffee. It is expected to transform the student experience. Officials hope it will also provide a greater sense of belonging to the campus and university, serve as a catalyst for discussion and engagement, and connect the community with the campus.