Designing a New Heart of Campus: USU Launches Historic Renovation and Expansion
CSUN students this spring approved a renovation and expansion of the University Student Union (USU) that will dramatically transform the campus’ center of student life.
The project, dubbed “The New Heart of Campus,” includes the development of a $130-million, 79,800-square-foot complex that will replace the Northridge Center Complex, which dates to 1977. An additional 49,900 square feet of existing facilities will be renovated. The main goal of the project is to re-purpose the site by implementing additional student club and organization spaces, larger meeting and event spaces, a new Center for Unity in Race, Intersectionality, Social and Environmental Justice, and greater indoor and shaded outdoor seating to promote a collaborative learning environment.
Other benefits include enhanced food options that may include existing eateries such as Subway and The Pub as well as other, yet-to-be-determined eating options, gaming areas and increased student employment opportunities.
“This entire project was made with students in mind,” said Freddie Sanchez, associate director of Marketing and Programs for the USU. “We want to assure that our programs and facilities on campus allow students to thrive and graduate.”
Construction is scheduled to start in spring 2020, and campus officials expect to open the new USU doors during the 2022-23 academic year, according to Debra Hammond, USU executive director.
In May, students approved a referendum for a $125-per-semester fee that will help fund the project. The USU will contribute a deposit of $24 million from its reserves, which will help alleviate the cost of the entire project. Campus surveys and focus groups indicated that student participants felt that the student fee increase of $125 was manageable.
The planned three-story building is designed with a specific function for each floor. The first level will consist of a social hub with dining options, the second will feature a ballroom-style venue equipped with technology and meeting rooms, and the third will be home to the Center for Unity in Race, Intersectionality, Social and Environmental Justice.
The new spaces also will provide more capacity and opportunities for meetings and events, social and collaborative learning spaces and will include more than 1,100 indoor and outdoor seats, quadrupling the number of seats available in the USU.
“Providing these services and amenities will help deepen the relationship between the campus and the student,” Hammond said. “We want to build community on campus, so the students have an abiding connection, respect and love for this institution.”
Student initiative has been the backbone of transformative projects like this one since the USU’s earliest days. As Associated Students (AS) president from 1962-63, Robert Axel ’64 (Business Administration) was inspired to create a student-geared space on campus. AS helped bring his dream to life and spearheaded the planning and securing funds.
This past academic year, key campus stakeholders — especially students — collaborated with the USU to help shape a facility that promotes student engagement, inclusivity, intersectionality, student learning and community building.
In 2016, campus administrators received input from the Students of Color Coalition (SCC), who recommended building a cross-cultural center to provide a communal, inclusive and supportive space for students of color on campus.
“It’s really important that what we create in this space is driven by students, because they are the controlling voice and vote on the board,” Hammond said. “They helped shape what it’s really going to be, and we are responsive to what they need.”
USU leaders said they feel that the “New Heart of Campus” name captures the student voice and perspective.
“A heart provides a beat and liveliness, and as students stated when they developed the tagline, this project will revitalize student engagement and campus life,” Sanchez said.