Parkland's 'front door' now open

Parkland's 'front door' now open

Freshly completed, renamed $35 million Student Union now welcoming visitors

CHAMPAIGN — Walls of windows and lots of natural light. Insulated, oak-paneled walls that reduce noise. Ceramic floor tiles. Plenty of lime and yellow accented chairs and couches.

And what is this about massages in the "stress reduction" room?

"This is your building," Marietta Turner tells Parkland College students when they arrive in the new student services center on campus.

Now called the Student Union after a recent student survey, the $35 million, 130,000-square-foot building is home to a variety of student-focused activities and offices.

It's where students will meet with admissions counselors, where they will seek answers to their financial aid questions, ask for advice in the career center, grab a sandwich, buy their books and a T-shirt and attend a board of trustees meeting (maybe).

The community college's campus, which was built in the 1970s on the western edge of Champaign, is a maze-like collection of buildings and offices spread out in different wings. On the east side of campus was a circle drive where many students boarded buses, but the campus lacked a true main entrance for students and other visitors.

"It's pretty clear now that this is the front door," college spokeswoman Patty Lehn said of the new building.

After about two years of construction (the groundbreaking was in spring 2012), the college is settling into the new three-story building. Employees started moving into their new spaces in phases beginning this spring. It will be fully open in mid-July, food will be dished up in the new cafeteria in late-August, and a celebration is planned for September.

"We tried to keep the same architectural flavor," said Jim Bustard, Parkland's physical plant director. At the same time, "it's definitely different" from other Parkland buildings.

The roof lines mimic those throughout the rest of the campus, he said. With lots of windows and lime-green and yellow and blue accents, it's a bright, fun place.

"The views from the building are spectacular," he said, looking toward the Dodds Athletic Fields.

Features include power shades, occupancy sensors and oak panels with insulation that absorb sound. A glass-encased "quiet room" is available for students looking to study or relax between classes.

"The focus is on the students. I tell them, 'this is where you get to hang out, take care of things,' " Turner said.

It is not uncommon for Parkland employees to have daily run-ins with lost students looking for certain offices, Lehn said. The new building should help reduce those run-ins.

"Everything is more visible," Turner said. As soon as students pass through the front door and walk up the grand staircase, they will be at the admissions office, she said.

The aim was to create a "one-stop-shop" where offices for admissions, financial aid, adult-entry, assessment and others are all in close in proximity. The new building also is where all students will go through orientation.

"We've got five or six times the space" compared to before, said Tom Caufield, director of student life. In the student life area of the building, students will find the (larger) student government office, the Prospectus newsroom, the wellness center and open space, complete with portable walls, designated for student organizations and clubs (there are about 40), he said.

For years, he said the student life space was being absorbed for classrooms.

"When we got this, we were delighted," he said, adding that the community college honor society Phi Theta Kappa now has its own space.

The bookstore is about 25 to 30 percent larger and its old space is being converted to biology labs. The cafeteria is larger, going from seating for about 40 people to 300, plus an outdoor patio area. (In addition to the standard fare of sandwiches, salads and burgers, plans call for more international fare, and pizza will be made in the new stone pizza oven.)

"I feel like Cinderella coming out of a closet, a tiny space, and into this castle," said Parkland wellness coordinator June Burch.

In her new office, she maintains health records for students. Nearby is a room for checking blood pressure and weight while another room has been designated a "stress reduction" space, where employees and students can decompress with a 15-minute chair massage courtesy of Burch.

Cobra castle

The vital statistics on Parkland College's fancy new student union building:

Size: Three stories, 113,000 square feet (130,000 if you include the basement).

Cost: $35 million, including all the furniture, equipment and landscaping.

Official opening: Mid-July.

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