By Arielle Dollinger and Ethan Freedman
The Stony Brook Union building will be closed for an estimated two-year period beginning in August 2014 while it undergoes renovation, said Howard Gunston, director of Facilities Operations of the Student Activities Center and SB Union, who debunked rumors of the imminent destruction of the building.
“Inside is where the magic’s going to happen,” Gunston said. But no concrete plans have been made for the renovations because the Union cannot shut down for construction until a new dining center is built for residents of H-Quad and Mendelsohn Quad.
The structure will be located between the Union and Mendelsohn Quad, and will be “a building that would be designed for dining services,” unlike the Union, which is home to club offices and classrooms as well.
“We can’t break ground, I can’t shut the Union down, until that building opens its doors,” Gunston said of the dining hall, explaining that the dining hall traffic would be too much for existing food courts to contain now that H Quad’s Benedict dining hall has closed.
While these improvements are being made, during a period that Gunston estimates will last about two years, the Union will be closed to the public.
“The University is working very hard to minimize any inconvenience to the greatest extent possible,” Gunston said. “Long term, once the SB Union re-opens, the building will provide a multitude of enhanced student service delivery by providing a centralized location for many of the student services on campus.”
According to Gunston, various “cosmetic enhancements” have been made to the building throughout the past 10 years. The Spirit and Courtview Lounges, Unity Cultural Center, Auditorium, Delancey Street Deli, Starbucks and Wolfie’s Lounge have each received their share of sprucing up over the years.
But, he said, there are still ways to better to the building, which hosts more than 2,000 student events a year in its ballroom, auditorium, eight meeting rooms, four lounges, coffee house, multi-purpose room and over 3,000 square feet of student office space.
“I think the building offers quite a bit of opportunity for extracurricular activities but there’s always room for improvement and my door is always open if students have suggestions or new ideas,” Gunston said.
According to the Student Affairs section of the university’s website, the building’s basement alone is home to the offices of four campus publications, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered Alliance, the New York Public Interest Research Group, SBU TV, the University Police Community Relations department, as well as a Craft Center, photography lab, Student Instructional Computing Site and unisex hair salon.
Vincent Viteri, head librarian of the university’s Science Fiction Forum, is not looking forward to the move. He said that the Forum headquarters moved to the Union about three years ago from its office in Harriman Hall when there were plans to knock down Harriman. Those plans were never carried out.
In the move from Harriman to the Union, the Forum lost shelves and books, he said. The club’s petition to stay proved ineffective.
“You think they care about the students? They’re building a goddamn hotel,” Viteri said, referring to the five-story structure that is currently under construction near the campus’ main entrance.
He is not optimistic when it comes to the club office’s relocation because the club’s petition to stay in Harriman Hall before its move to what he refers to as “club alley” in the Union proved ineffective.
“We could petition and say, ‘look how many books we have,’ and that’s what we did last time,” he said. “We couldn’t do anything about it.”
The frequent moving and the conditions of the club offices have made Viteri question the university’s true values.
“I feel like the university does not have us [clubs] as the highest priority…” he said, “and I’m not saying that it should. It’s just about us being down here in club alley, it’s what it is.”
Julia Pomeroi, an artist-in-residence, has been working in the craft studio in the Union for the past 16 years, and calls it her “second home.”
Pomeroi is worried about how the arts will be affected by the studio’s closing. Art classes open to both students and the community are held in the studio, and will now require a change of venue.
“Where do the arts go?” she asked.
Losing the use of the studio “would be a great loss to the student population,” Pomeroi said, noting that many people used the space, “from the community, to the students, to the faculty.”
However, some students do see the need for building renovations.
Antonia Ines Rodriguez, a Stony Brook student and member of the Stony Brook chapter of the NYPIRG, would especially like to see improvements made to the building’s ceilings and walls.
“To my knowledge, these buildings are at least 40, 50 years old,” she said, “and they should be updated.”
Many of the club offices located in the Union’s basement belong to student media groups. According to Isobel Breheny-Schafer, student media advisor, “there really hasn’t been any decision about anything yet,” when it comes to the new locations of these student media offices.
“We want to know what the students need,” Schafer said. She has been asking media students to give input about what the future of the media offices might be, she said, noting that the issue has been discussed at student media council meetings.
Gunston as well noted that student needs and wants are prime components of the decision-making process in finding new locations for “displaced tenants.”
“I think the challenge is to make sure that we meet the needs that the media groups have,” Gunston said, “and then figure out which of the wants we can manage.”