DSU’s transformation finally complete

Upon completion of renovations, the Centennial Mall side of the Downing Student Union is now open. Jake Pope/HERALD

After two years of watching and waiting, Downing Student Union finally opened Monday.

The $49 million renovations on DSU began as a Student Government Association initiative in 2011 to update the food services, meeting spaces and plumbing, electrical and mechanical utilities.

In preparation for how DSU would look, several students and faculty embarked on a three-day trip to tour university student centers at about seven different universities, including Northern Kentucky, Cincinnati and Ohio University before renovations began.

Bryan Russell, chief facilities officer, said the trip yielded useful information.

“When we came back we all presented collages of what we liked best,” he said. “We asked what the students wanted and then that’s what we tried to create.”

The opening of DSU has been long awaited and everyone from students to administrators have been affected.

Russell said students, faculty and staff have been overwhelmed by the 44-year-old building’s transformation. 

“We’ve even had some walk in and start crying,” Russell said.

Kathryn Costello, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, said alumni have been very impressed that the renovated building will mostly serve students.

“It is a very grand building,” Costello said.

Brandon Faller, a Smiths Grove senior, just saw the finished renovation for the first time.

“It’s really more open, more vibrant feeling.  It’s definitely an improvement being able to walk all over the building, to see the changes they have made,” Faller said. 

Shawnee, Kansas senior Jake Thompson said the building looked “immaculate” and was happy to finally see the constant construction on the building come to an end.

“It did make things a little bit more difficult, getting around and stuff,” he said. “Especially when like half of the building was closed at a time.”

The inside of the building is not the only thing that has changed. A little more than a year ago, students still referred to DSU as DUC.

Russellville sophomore Sara Garner said despite the name change, she still calls the building DUC.

“I like tradition,” Garner said. “I’ve always known it as DUC because I grew up around Bowling Green. It’s always been DUC.”

Students have had to bear the grunt of the project. About 70 percent of the project was paid for by students. Students have been charged a $70 fee each semester to pay for the renovations, a fee not everyone is happy with.

“I might feel like a lot of this is a little bit unnecessary,” Garner said.

Although the building is “90 percent” open according to Russell, there are still parts of the building being worked on. The ceiling tiles on the third floor are still being installed. There are several clocks missing in the atrium. Other portions, including a conference room, will be completed in the coming weeks. 

DSU currently houses several student activity and dining locations and will be welcoming new food venues such as Steak ’n Shake and Burrito Bowl.

Dan Chaney, project manager of Capital Construction, said Steak ’n Shake will be open in the coming weeks. Some students are looking excited for the new restaurant.

“I’m looking forward to having some Steak ’n Shake on the go,” Elizabethtown junior Harrison Isom said. “It’s really cool that they take our Dining Dollars and Meal Plans.”

Steak ’n Shake will be open in the next few weeks.

Other additions opening up at DSU include a 24-hour study space a recreational lounge, large meeting rooms, new offices for staff and student organizations, a passport center in the post office, and a location for Nite Class. 

“Nite Class is an open venue where people can have private events,” Chaney said. “It used to be downstairs next to Subway and the post office, but it got a whole new look and actually a new addition to the building.”

Several organizations and businesses have been affected by the renovations. The WKU Store temporarily relocated to the Garrett Conference Center, and in August 2013 moved into its permanent location on the ground level of DSU. 

The ground floor also contains more space for a US Bank and an Apple Store. 

 “When we first opened last year, there was still construction going on around the store, customers had a hard time getting to us; it really hurt us. We’re in much better shape this year,” said Gary Meszaros, assistant vice president of Business and Auxiliary Services. 

There will be many ceremonies celebrating the opening of DSU, including a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Friday.

President Gary Ransdell said he was  glad that the grand opening has arrived.

“Boy, what a building transformation,” he said.