Many other SEC schools have recently added space, built new buildings
In the past 35 years, the Russell House has remained the exact same size.
During that time, almost every SEC school has added square footage to its university union, built a new facility or completed significant renovations.
LSU opened its new building this past spring after a five-year construction and renovation project. The University of Georgia doubled the size of its union in 2009, and Mississippi State opened a new union in 2008. The University of Tennessee is in an expansion and renovation process right now. The University of Kentucky and Alabama both have plans that are in the works with specific funding sources identified for significant renovations to infrastructure, said Russell House Director Kim McMahon.
“We are in the bottom quarter in terms of progress,” McMahon said.
Mark Rozanski, assistant director of University Center at UT, said his university is planning to spend $160 million on its new, 300,000 square foot student union.
“It’s a little chaotic right now because they’re still doing the surveying and things like that, but if everything goes online and gets started, hopefully it will open in the fall of 2016,” Rozanski said.
At 225,000 square feet, the size of the Russell House is comparable to the university’s SEC counterparts. Auburn University’s student union has 185,000 square feet and the University of Tennessee’s student union has 210,000 square feet.
But both schools have smaller student bodies.
Along with complaints about the Russell House’s space limitations, McMahon cites the lack of meeting rooms and their inability to accommodate enough students.
The largest meeting room, which excludes the ballroom and theatre, fits 70 people. So if an organization with more than 70 people needs a meeting space, it’s forced to use academic buildings. There are only nine rooms in academic buildings that fit more than 100 people.
“So when 20 groups of that size meet the same night, we don’t have the space to accommodate those students’ needs,” McMahon said.
What has plagued the project: a lack of dedication to do something and funds to make it happen. McMahon said a renovation or new building could be paid for with extra student activity fees, a donor’s gift or a commitment of funds from the university’s central administration.
McMahon wants a long-term study on how to maximize the Russell House and center of campus, similar to a recent study completed by university housing. That would allow officials to see how USC “can best maximize its space for all students,” she said.
There hasn’t been a serious plan to add space or build a new Russell House since 1976, said Jerry Brewer, USC’s associate vice president for student affairs.
“I don’t think that anyone would argue that we have adequate student union space,” Brewer said.
McMahon said students must show their desire for a new student union in order for it to become a serious consideration.
“That’s very much how the Strom was born,” McMahon said. “It’s because students identified that the Blatt was no longer serving the students’ needs and the needs of the university community. And students were heavily involved in the momentum of that, in addition to administration.”