The Student Union at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse (UW-L) was a $53.5 million project funded by student fees and a 30-year bond that included the creation of new dining service retail venues. A student referendum drove interest in the project to provide a more state-of-the-art facility to bring students together to continue to enhance the UW-L community.
Planning for the complex began in 2012, and ground was broken two years later. It opened this past January.
The new dining areas on the structure’s first floor have eight concepts, including one national brand—Einstein Bros. Bagels—and seven proprietary brands from dining services provider Chartwells Higher Education that offer deli (Mondo Subs), grill (Grilled It), Southwest (Sono), home-style (Kitchen Classics), pizza (Lower Level Pizza & Grill), Middle Eastern (CREATE) and salad bar (Earth Table) options.
There’s also a concession stand for student organization fundraising during showings at the 250-seat movie theater. Supporting the retail areas is a full back-of-the-house kitchen with catering support areas and kitchens also located on each floor.
Perhaps the most striking thing about the project is the way the overall concept brings the outdoors into the indoor space through windows and glass walls. The university sits along the Mississippi River and is enveloped by the natural wonders of the many surrounding bluffs, and the various areas of the dining venue take advantage of this natural beauty.
For example, the salad bar is situated in a space accented by large windows that allow natural light to flood in and illuminate the fresh ingredients. The coffee shop’s millwork, meanwhile, includes reclaimed woods sourced locally.
The new Student Union also provides a "campus living room" space for students to relax between classes by one of the four fireplaces or to socialize with friends at the tables scattered around the structure’s multiple levels or in the recreation area that features equipment like pool tables, dart boards and foosball tables.
The new 205,000-square-foot building replaced the nearly 60-year-old 139,000-square-foot Cartwright Center. The design consultant organization on the project was Rippe Associates of Minneapolis.