The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted Thursday to approve the expansion and renovation of the University of North Texas Union.
Elizabeth With, vice president for student affairs at UNT, said it was a unanimous vote.
She was at the meeting in Austin with James Maguire, vice chancellor for administrative services, and Andrew Harris, vice president for finance and administration.
The maximum budget the UNT Board of Regents approved for the project is $128.4 million, which would come from auxiliary enterprise revenue and student fees.
With said the exact budget won’t be known until the design is finalized, which is expected to happen in March.
UNT hired architectural firm Perkins & Will in August 2011 to create the union design.
The coordinating board’s committee on affordability, accountability and planning didn’t approve the university’s initial request in October. But after making adjustments to its application and plans, UNT took the request before the committee again in December and it was approved to go before the coordinating board.
“We were asked to provide some additional material on costs and student share of costs,” UNT President Lane Rawlins said.
He said one of the aspects the coordinating board was concerned about was the number of students who voted on the project.
UNT students voted in April to approve a union fee increase of up to $115 a semester. It will go into effect in the fall of 2014.
UNT spokeswoman Kelley Reese said the actual increase won’t be known until the design is finalized, but it won’t exceed $115.
Official results of the vote show that 2,253 students voted on the union fee and 54 percent approved the fee increase. UNT’s fall enrollment was more than 35,000 students.
Rawlins said he is disappointed with the number of students who voted.
“I’ve often said I wish more students would vote,” he said. “I’d like to hear from them.”
He said low student turnout for referendums is an issue faced by all universities, including the ones he’s been at.
Students did everything they could to get the word out, he said, including having information online, in print and on posters around campus.
“I don’t think it was because students didn’t know about it,” Rawlins said.
But he’s happy the coordinating board approved the project.
“It’s part of the next step of being the university that focuses first on students,” Rawlins said.
UNT made plans to expand and renovate the existing union because of its growing enrollment. The building was last renovated in 1973, when enrollment was 17,000. The new union will be built to accommodate 45,000 students, Reese said.
Students have asked for more natural lighting, enhanced space for student organizations and more lounge space.
“It’s important that the project become what the students hope it will be,” With said.
The new union is being designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Construction is expected to begin in June and is planned to be completed by June 2015.
With said the new union will be a place for students to interact.
“The more engaged the student population is, the more successful they are,” she said.
Students and services in the union will be displaced during the renovation and expansion.
“We’re finding space for the different services and programs,” With said.
UNT will use existing facilities, she said, and most of the programs will move to Stovall Hall.
“It’s worth the time to be without space for students to gain the space they need,” With said.
RACHEL MEHLHAFF can be reached at 940-566-6889. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .