The results of the Carolina Union’s Feasibility Study were released on the new Our Carolina Union website Monday, revealing students’ high interest in building a new Union and how much a new and improved Union that could accommodate campus needs might cost — approximately $221 million.
The study, which began in May 2016, looked for student input and involved a campus-wide survey, focus groups, benchmark research and tours of recently built student unions at nine other campuses.
Boateng Kubi, chairperson of the Carolina Union Board of Directors, said the student feedback about the project has exceeded his expectations.
“This was a project led by students, for students and, at every stage, I think student engagement has been mind-blowing,” he said.
The study revealed that about 83 percent of the students who took the survey saw building a new union as a high to moderate priority. The study showed that what students wanted most in a new union was more space.
The survey reported that most students said the Union was the number one place they went to interact informally with other students, but also said the number one reason they did not use the Union was because it was too crowded.
“When you juxtapose these two facts here, it being the number one place students want to go, but the number one reason they don’t go is that it's too crowded, that really pointed at the lack of space,” Kubi said.
Kubi said with the results of the study and what students said they want and need in a new Union, the estimated size of a new building would be about 292,000 square feet.
But before the project can move to the advanced planning stage, students must first decide if they want a new Union.
Kubi said a student referendum is the next step in the project’s process.
“The entire point of a feasibility study is not necessarily to tell students to vote yes or no for any project,” he said. “A study assesses the issues in a facility and what the students want. And we’ve given the students the results with a price tag. So students will eventually get to decide if this is something they want.”
Kubi said this semester has been dedicated to educating students on the project, but he hopes with approval from the Carolina Union Board of Directors, a referendum will appear on the ballot soon.
McKenzie Folan, member of the Carolina Union Board of Directors, said for this project, the Board of Directors would like to get both Student Congress’ approval and student signatures in support of the referendum.
“We think signature gathering is important to inform students and educate them on what this project is. It also helps Congress because if they say, 'Hey we got 4,000 signatures supporting this referendum,' then Congress is more likely to say yes to it as well,” he said. “I think if we can get Congress’ approval, it would be easier to pass the referendum. But I think if students see the necessity the feasibility (study) shows, it will be easy to pass it as well.”
Neil Harwani, president of Carolina Union Activities Board, said for now, they are just welcoming student feedback.
“I think for me, I more so look at it from the legacy-building standpoint,” Kubi said. “We’re currently occupying a Student Union that another student body left behind for us. So, is this a legacy that whatever student body is there at that time wants to leave behind for future Tar Heels?”
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story was unclear about when a referendum for the union could be on the ballot. The earliest a referendum could appear would be next semester. The story has been updated to reflect this.
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