East Campus Union

Cristal Kwan (left) shows Mike Nguyen (right) her phone in the newly renovated East Campus Union on Monday, March 9, 2020, in Lincoln, Nebraska.

For the past year and a half, the Nebraska East Union has undergone renovations. This week, they’re celebrating the additions of more student lounging space, a Starbucks and a new Dairy Store.

Last year the union finished the first floor with a renovated dining center, and last month the second phase of the renovation was finished. Though the renovations are not over, they held a mid-renovation open house on Monday, March 9. 

The celebration was in honor of the near-completion of phase two of the remodel, which included most of the second floor. The union’s Great Plains Ballroom, which has been modernized and expanded to about 8,000 square feet, is not finished yet.

Phase two, which will cover the atrium, spanning from the first to second floor, will end in mid-April, according to Assistant Director of Nebraska Unions Andy Smriga. But the renovations began years ago when construction began on the Massengale Residential Center.

“Here was a 40-year-old looking space, which didn’t match the new living experience for students here,” Smriga said. “We wanted to make sure that our union matched up to what they had over in the new Massengale Residential Center.”

At that time, funds were available for remodeling from the reserves of a Nebraska Unions student fee bond. With that money, as well as some partners pitching in and housing fee reserves, Nebraska Unions was able to pay for the cost that will be upwards of $28 million when the renovation is finished in October 2020.

Smriga said all of the feedback on the progress of the renovations has been positive so far.

“This last week as we've opened, and [I’ve been] watching people walk off the elevator or through the entrance for the first time, and they get big-eyed or almost confused because it looks so different than it did before,” he said. “Seeing them come off the elevator, instantly have a smile and start using the space the way we hoped they would is, I think, the best feedback we're getting.”

One use of space that has already become popular at the union is the Starbucks. Smriga said the process of getting the Starbucks was easier because of the franchise already having a location in the City Campus union.

Smriga said Starbucks was an essential addition to the East Campus renovation.

“Through feedback, coffee was an important element, as it is in many spaces,” he said. “If you go to college unions all over the country, you'll see Starbucks or coffee. With having events like we do and having the kinds of spaces we're trying to create, having something like a Starbucks to anchor and to promote meaningful conversations and for people to come in and draw people together I think is really good.”

Senior communication sciences and disorders major Clair Trenhaile works at the new Starbucks and said the design has been popular so far.

“This is the new Starbucks design. If you look at the one on City Campus, the paint is different. We have different espresso machines; we have a lot more space. That's the first thing people have noticed,” she said. “Our co-workers from City [Campus] come over, and they just marvel at our store, which is really fun.”

Trenhaile thinks the Starbucks combined with the new lounge and study spaces will be effective for business and will draw people to the union.

“We have these really nice study spaces nearby, which is great,” Trenhaile said. “We had a really good opening week as far as traffic goes, and I'm sure it'll pick up as more people are aware of what we have here.”

Overall, Smriga hopes students can quickly embrace the improved union.

“I hope these renovations give people the idea that we're already back and better than ever,” he said. “Hopefully, the time away for the dust and noise and construction is moving towards the new usable, exciting spaces. Hopefully, this really gave everyone an idea that we want everyone to come back home, and I think we're ready for that.”