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Volume 49,
Number 3


Serving to learn, and learning to serve

It's showtime!


The University of Iowa

A more perfect Union: Student input shapes renovation of campus hub

Under construction. These words conjure perceptions of inaccessibility, inconvenience, and loss of time. However, as many can attest, enduring the temporary hassles of construction often results in positive changes.

Through December, students will navigate “under construction” signs in and around the Iowa Memorial Union (IMU). Their extra effort will be worth it. The IMU, built in 1925 and last renovated in 1988, is undergoing the first phase of a two-phase construction and renovation project. The $9.9 million project will include interior and exterior changes, many of which were requested by students, to make the building a more modern, comfortable place.

Artist renderings, from Burt Hill Kosar Rittelmann Associates of Philadelphia, of the Iowa Memorial Union renovation depict the building from the west side (see drawing at the top of the page), featuring an outdoor amphitheater along the Iowa River, and from the east side (above), where more than 11,000 additional square feet will house a student lounge and organizational offices.

“Suggestions to remodel the IMU started cropping up in focus groups and student surveys in 1998,” says David Grady, assistant vice president for student services and director of University Life Centers. “To provide a high quality of life for students, we needed to make improvements to the building.”

In 2002, a design committee made up of students, faculty, and staff began to prioritize the suggested changes, which included more lounge and social space, upgraded student organization offices, easier navigation within the building, a bowling alley, and better food choices. While a bowling alley wasn’t included in the final design, many of the plans were based on student input.

The redesign will offer an airy lounge on the first floor with a fireplace and television, student organization offices with natural light, an upgraded bookstore, a small performance space, and an outdoor amphitheater. The project, which will add 11,025 square feet of usable space and greatly improve circulation in the building, is being funded by an increase in student fees—$29 per semester—that began in 2003.

“It’s exciting to see how everyone across campus has come together to make the best product for the students,” says committee member Shannon Thomas, a junior from Ames studying communications and French.

Thomas says the renovation will make the building feel more open, and that students will want to study and meet friends there.

Lauren McCarthy, a senior political science and international studies major from Urbandale, Iowa, and vice president of UI Student Government, agrees. 

“What makes a student union unique is how well it connects to the spirit of the university,” she says. “I think students will begin to think more creatively about how to use the IMU once the renovation is complete.”

McCarthy says students will find inventive uses for the new venues, such as the amphitheater, for performances and competitions. “Students will be drawn to the IMU for more than studying and lunch,” she says.

Construction began last November. Orange and white barricades reduced Madison Street traffic to three lanes, chain-link fencing blocked the East Terrace entrance, and temporary walls inside redirected foot traffic.

The new lounge, to be located in the East Terrace lobby area, will be appointed with soft-seated furniture, carpet in muted black and gold tones, and lighting fixtures, and will feature an open stairway to the second level, which will house offices for student government and organizations.

The building’s lower level is changing, too. To accommodate construction, University Book Store temporarily has been relocated to the Main Lounge. The bookstore’s old space, located directly below the lounge addition, has become a construction zone. Passersby can peer through windows at workers as they reconstruct walls and strengthen flooring to support the changes upstairs.

When the bookstore reopens in the lower level this fall, students will enjoy additional square footage for check out and customer service areas. The store also will have new carpeting and lighting fixtures and will be located on one level, eliminating the ramps and stairs from the previous store.

Grady acknowledges there will be some inconveniences. Some events and services regularly scheduled at the IMU, such as Hawkeye Visit Days and the New Student Orientation large assembly, will be relocated.

“The IMU is often the first impression for visitors,” says Grady. “We want to have a first-class facility and a welcoming space.”

Plans include a second phase of construction estimated at $20.1 million. Possibilities for the second phase include creation of a new food court, improved seating and lounge space in the Wheelroom, and two corridors designed to improve circulation within the building. The project must receive approval from the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, and will require students to pay an additional building fee to support the project.

For more information about the project, visit

by Lesly Huffman




Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright The University of Iowa 2004. All rights reserved.

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