Director of new student union tips his hat to students' vision

11/13/2007 8:00:00 AM

Most of his things are stuffed into used cardboard boxes. But in what is soon to be student union director Chuck Price's old office in the Jot Travis Building, he has yet to pack up his hats.

Baseball hats, golf hats, cowboy hats, hard hats and even a chef's hat are stacked high on shelves. And they're all fitting reminders of the many hats he's had to wear while working on the new Joe Crowley Student Union, with its grand opening on Nov. 15, just southeast of Lawlor Events Center.

"I love coming to work every day," Price said. "You never know which crisis or celebration is in store when you're working on a project like this one."

Price, director of the Jot Travis Student Union since 1994, is quick to credit his small team of seven for its hard work and effort to make "The Joe" become a reality. And no matter the question, Price always returns to his favorite topic: the students.

"This is their building, their community, their heart of the campus," Price said. "I love working with the students. They're the donors. And it's their vision that has made this whole project possible."

On his first day on the job 13 years ago, Price was instructed to select an architect to remodel the existing student union. The 50-year-old, two-story building, which is half the size of the Joe Crowley Student Union, has been a challenge to work with as its construction does not allow any opportunities to build upward. Price knew space would become an issue.

Then, in early 2003, Alicia Lerud, president of the Associated Students of the University of Nevada (ASUN), introduced a resolution for the expansion of student life facilities, which included a new union. A survey showed 72 percent of students were willing to pay extra fees to help fund the building. Undergraduate and graduate student leaders worked with Price and the University administration to develop a group comprised of students, faculty and staff who were, as Price says, for, against and neutral about the potential project. An outside consultant was hired to determine if the project was feasible, and a critical need for students.

"At the initial meeting with students, my first sentence to them was 'you're not going to like what I have to say,'" Price said. "We were all determined to make it the most green [eco-friendly] building on campus, and there were some budget issues we had to work out."

With the help of SEEDS, the Students and Educators for Environmental Development and Sustainability, the Graduate Student Association, ASUN, other student groups and the Nevada System of Higher Education Regents, the strategic plan was created and the discussions sometimes became heated.

"Actually, the people who were initially against the project helped to make it much better," Price said. "SEEDS helped select the architects, WTW and Lundahl and Associates, and added criteria they wanted. And with everyone working together, we not only stayed on budget, we stayed on schedule as well."

And now, with the grand opening at hand, all the groups are collaborating on the programming for the building. Price, who will soon be hanging his hats in his new office on the fourth floor, wants the community to utilize the 167,000-square-foot building, especially the 1,200-seat (more than 10,000 square foot) grand ballroom, but not at the expense of the students.

"We can rent the ballroom and some of the facility for conferences, weddings and special events. But we say 'no' to those [people in charge of] events that want to book during what will be prime time for the students, like Homecoming, graduation and student-organized activities. It's their building."

Price believes "The Joe" is designed to make life less stressful for students. The combination of retail vendors and services, like the credit union, mailboxes, food court and the bookstore, will make it easier to take care of business without leaving the 290-acre campus. He's also hoping many students will want to work at the union, and that will save them travel time between school and work.

"This is a tremendously exciting and energizing time to be a part of this university," said Heather Turk, associate director of programs for the student union. "I've had the pleasure of being involved in this project from the time the students said 'we want it now' four years ago. Every time I take a tour group through the building, you can feel their awe and you can feel that the union is about to come alive."

From the fritted windows filled with the tiny outlines of the state of Nevada to the new furniture made of recycled materials, and the vestibule entrances reducing dust and airborne pollutants, the green, $66 million project is ready to launch the campus into a new realm.

"What we do in a nutshell is build a community," Price said. "Because of the students, we're changing our culture and creating a new heart. I can't wait."


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