Will UW cuts leave Union work unfinished?

University responds to potential impact of budget
Will UW cuts leave Union work unfinished?

As the future of UW’s state funding remains under political fire, there are questions about what university projects could be affected by a proposed tuition freeze and related spending cuts.

Under the clouds of that gloomy financial forecast, Rob and Patti Wangard took time to enjoy a warm spring afternoon with family and friends at the center of the campus: The Memorial Union.

They did have something to celebrate, after all, as the couple had just exchanged wedding vows earlier in the day.

The Wangards reflected on their history at the summer hot spot. Both from Badger lineage, they’ve spent a lot of time on the Union Terrace and knew they wanted it to be part of their big day.

But sitting in the shadows of scaffolding wasn’t exactly what they had in mind.

“They have to finish it,” Rob Wangard said. “They can’t leave it open like this, can’t leave the walls up forever.”

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The Union is undergoing a $53 million renovation project. By next year, construction on the west part of the building is scheduled to be complete. One of those additions is a new brat stand that is open for business Monday.

After that, work will move to the rest of the structure. Memorial Union communications director Marc Kennedy said the project is too important to put on hold or stop, and he doesn’t expect either to happen.

“It just has a lot of nostalgia for people who went to school here, and who live here and just visited here,” Kennedy said.

According to UW spokesperson John Lucas, there are two aspects of the budget that could affect the work at the Union, though he admitted he doesn’t anticipate significant delays.

First, the Joint Finance Committee passed a freeze on tuition and segregated fees. Kennedy said segregated fees do partially fund the Union improvements, but that donations and operating revenues are also factored into that cost.

Second, the Joint Finance Committee also approved a provision allowing the governor to sell off campus property. Under that, buildings that are at least 50% funded by gift or grant funds or federal dollars are exempt. In addition, Lucas said any sale would require legislative approval.

“UW-Madison does not believe that it is the intent of the governor or the legislature to sell buildings like the Memorial Union,” Lucas said.

“That’s far beyond my control or anyone’s control here, but I don’t think that Union members or members of the community would take a dim view of that,” Kennedy said. “And just my guess as a Union member and a staff member, we have so many fans, Union members, alums around the world, that I think they would like to see it maintained. And it’s always going to evolve physically, but again, that’s beyond our control.”

Despite construction, Kennedy said the Memorial Union and the Union Terrace are open all summer. For a full schedule of events, go here.

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