The $13.4 million, 15,000 square foot addition to the Student Union, also known as the Atrium, officially opened its glass doors to the public on Monday, Sept. 13, but has been open to the campus community for use since Aug. 20.
State University of New York (SUNY) at New Paltz received funding for the Student Union addition five years ago, after administrators presented their vision to Assemblyman Kevin Cahill and State Sen. John Bonacic, Vice President for Student Affairs L. David Rooney said. Cahill and Bonacic recognized the limitations of the old Student Union and sponsored a member item in the legislature that made the first expansion to the Student Union after 40 years possible.
According to Director of Student Activities and Union Services Mike Patterson, the specific architectural design of the building is directly related to the regional outlook over the Shawangunk Mountain Ridge. The addition also features environmentally friendly design techniques such as reduced energy consumption, water reducing plumbing fixtures and solar shading.
Expanding the Student Union also called for new security measures. Security cameras have been installed throughout the buildings, which weren’t put in place before the addition was built.
Construction of the space also aimed to make the bookstore and other offices more accessible. The bookstore entrance is now visible and available in the lower level of the Atrium next to the Entertainment Commons.
Food venues, a gaming area, locker rentals, a student lounge space and student conference rooms have been made available in an effort to create a comfortable and friendly space for students, Patterson said.
“It was really a social mechanism that we wanted to achieve with this space in terms of a place for students to meet up with each other and to gather and figure out where they need to go from there,” Patterson said.
Patterson said retaining student support was a challenge for the school during the construction phase. The school gave hard hat tours of the space last spring.
“I think that students really struggled with understanding what this space was,” he said.
Now that the Atrium is open, however, many of the students who were less enthusiastic about the project in its early stages now acknowledge the benefits of the new facility.
Third-year international relations major Juliet Beato thought the construction of a “glass structure” seemed less important in comparison to the renovation of residence halls and other buildings on campus. But with the Atrium now open for student use, Beato sees the Atrium as a beneficial addition to the Student Union.
“I feel like it’s turned out to be positive because everybody comes here everyday and they hang out, study or do work,” she said, while holding a book and sitting on one of the many brightly colored chairs in the gaming lounge with her friends.
However, some students simply view the new addition as a decorative piece for the campus. Alex Wertheim, a fourth-year physics major, thinks the Student Union is now a lot more accessible than it used to be. But he said he’s not entirely convinced the addition will actually be a place where students hang out.
“It’s really purely aesthetic . . . it really is,” Wertheim said. “Yeah, it’s very modern looking. But as far as functionality, it’s just going to be a sit-and-eat place.”
Christopher J. Dickel, a third-year business management student who is transferring at the end of the semester, enjoys the architecture on campus and now feels a little remorseful about leaving SUNY New Paltz.
“There’s a little more that I look forward to at New Paltz where last year it was just like I would only come to the ‘SUB’ to eat and that’s it . . . nobody hung out here. It wasn’t as engaging,” he said. But now, “it’s finally something that is worthwhile.”
Patterson and Director of Facilities Design and Construction John McEnrue agree that the additional spaces do seem to fit the numerous needs of students throughout SUNY New Paltz, those living both on and off campus.
“Student Unions have a programmatic need to have spaces where students can play pool, watch television, eat with a variety of dining options and meet in either formal meeting rooms or informal gathering spaces,” McEnrue said.
At the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Sept. 13, Student Association President Jennifer Sanchez spoke to the student body in front of the new addition.
“Let’s take advantage of the space we’ve been given. Let’s embrace it and use it to its maximum potential,” she said. “As we learn and get accustomed to the space, let’s take the opportunity to continue to enhance and make the Student Union your living room on campus. After all, it is the Student Union, so it’s up to us to make the best of it.”