Launch into Leadership

Student Center seeks $25 million expansion study

Perkins and Will, an architecture and design firm, spoke with Georgia State students at the Involvement Fair on Sep. 6, 2018 about their ideas for expansion of the Student Center on the downtown campus. Photo by Unique Rodriguez | The Signal

Georgia State students may not have to differentiate between Student Center East and Student Center West for much longer. In the next few years, both buildings could possibly merge following an estimated $25 million construction project.

At the Fall Student Involvement Fair on Thursday, Sept. 6, representatives from the architecture and design firm Perkins and Will (PW) took in feedback on what students would like to see happen with the centers as part of a feasibility study for the proposed project. PW also consulted with various staff through focus groups earlier that morning.

Director of Student Media Bryce McNeil, whose office is within Student Center West, shared his thoughts on the proposed expansion.

“I am very excited about this assessment. I’ve encouraged all of our volunteers to be active in the feedback process. The implications of a potential expansion would be far reaching, from redefining our space to having more recreational events for student press to cover. I am hopeful that Student Media’s connection to the Student Center will be stronger than ever in students’ minds whatever the results of this assessment,” he said.

After analyzing an excess of funds across multiple university accounts, the idea of investing those funds into an improved student center came to fruition. The ongoing study also seeks to discover how much the project would cost and if the university would be able to allocate the funds appropriately.

“When we’re done with [the feasibility study], essentially it will help us to determine, ‘Can we afford to enhance the student center with our given financial resources?’” Senior Director of the Student Center Boyd Beckwith said.

Students shouldn’t have to worry about the cost either, as there are no plans to use student activity fees to contribute to the project’s cost.

“We are not going to make a request of the student body to raise activity fees either to them or to the Board of Regents because we know that’s not going to happen. If we’re making any enhancements to the student center we need to do it with our existing money,” Beckwith said.

He visited the Student Government Association (SGA) senate meeting on Thursday, Sept. 13. After delivering a slideshow filled with imagery of bowling alleys, floor-to-ceiling windows and a Georgia State-branded clock tower, Beckwith was met with a charged series of comments by Senator Spencer Bivins.

Bivins was skeptical as to why the university can’t use apparent excess funds for other more timely issues, such as funding new buses or purchasing testing supplies. Beckwith said that the excess of money is drawn from multiple departments and cannot be transferred across the university.

Probably the largest challenge that the student centers face now is a lack of ballroom space, according to Beckwith.

“We’re turning away 3,000 events a year because we don’t have the meeting room space for them,” he said. “We host over 8,000 events a year in the spaces that we have.”

Beckwith wants to increase student involvement within the student centers’ existing space since he said many students have indicated on surveys that they felt as though the student center lacked activity.

“We just hired a new digital marketing specialist and one of the things we’re hoping she can help us with is we’re changing the forms when student organizations or departments reserve space they’re going to let us know, ‘Are you okay with us sharing this on social media?’” he said.

This way, Beckwith believes more students will attend events at the student centers and be generally more involved on campus.

“Students pay the fees to operate the building,” he said, expanding on why students need to be aware of the events taking place.

For the location of the actual expansion and construction, Beckwith provided a rough, unconfirmed idea of what would happen.

“Right now, the most logical footprint for an expansion is essentially over Unity Plaza where it would potentially remove the bookstore building and have a new building to combine or access east and west.”

Pounce’s statue, an iconic landmark on campus, sits within Unity Plaza. During the SGA meeting, Beckwith said that they will either relocate Pounce to Urban Life Plaza, place him inside the expansion or place him underneath an elevated platform of the expansion.

“I think Urban Life Plaza is one of the most underutilized spaces on campus. It’s got some really cool plantings, especially on the side that overlooks Gilmer. Part of it is clearly it gets hot here and sunny,” he said.

Beckwith said he wants to see the expansion not only impact the student centers but also the campus as a whole.

“I think [after] we added the solar powered tables, I’m seeing a few more students using that space but again, trying to think of this project as part of a whole not just, ‘All we want to fix is the student center’ part but how is it going to affect the whole campus. And again really providing a better space [where] all of our students feel welcome. We know that quite frankly the student center is only reaching a fraction of our 34,000 students,” he said.

In the event that the first floor is enclosed, Beckwith said outdoor student activities that presently occur in Unity Plaza could be moved into the expansion, to Hurt Park or to Urban Life Plaza. Activities could also move to what will soon be the greenway once Kell Hall is demolished (Beckwith noted that that demolition will cost a whopping $5 million).

The university hopes that students will use the new space for more than just a pathway between classes. Within rough plans for the expansion, there are talks of adding a gaming center, a dedicated SGA senate chamber, a wellness minute-clinic and more ballroom space.

“We know there are tons of students who go to classes and go home,” Beckwith said.

Beckwith stressed that all the plans for the new student center expansion are extremely tentative and construction wouldn’t begin for a few years. The university hopes to gain the approval of the Board of Regents early spring semester and begin drafting designs by the end of it.

After that, Beckwith said construction could begin, but anyone attending Georgia State right now would not see the completion of the expansion unless they’re a freshman planning to get their doctorate, due to how long it would take until construction actually begins.

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