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ASU celebrates re-opening of MU on Tempe campus

August 27, 2008

The dust has settled, the paint is dry, the fence is down and all the floors are open. Just in time for the fall semester Arizona State University is ready to celebrate the re-opening of its renovated Memorial Union on the Tempe campus.

Originally built in 1954, the Memorial Union is the center of student life on the Tempe Campus. Nearly 25,000 guests pass through its doors daily.

A fire in November 2007 shut down the Memorial Union temporarily. While the lower level and first floor food court were open within 60 days, the severely damaged second floor and third floor were closed for renovation.

The Arizona Board of Regents approved $53 million to repair and renovate the MU, with an anticipated $40 million coming from insurance reimbursements and $13 million paid from bond money for upgrades planned before the fire.

The university hired the architecture firm Studio Ma, Inc. and CORE Construction to undertake a full renovation of the second floor, upgrade to current building codes and to match or exceed the high standards of quality used in the recently constructed campus buildings. The second floor houses meeting rooms and ballrooms and for many visitors, it is the “front door” experience to the ASU campus.

“For the past 50 years the Memorial Union has been central to our campus, offering a gathering place for students, faculty staff and visitors to engage,” says Kellie Lowe, MU director. “Throughout the renovation, every decision we made was based on meeting the needs of our students and the ASU community. The newly remodeled MU will be an area on campus that our students can enjoy and be proud of.”

The entire building has been brought to current fire code compliance and a comprehensive fire sprinkler system and fire detection and alarm system were installed. Three existing stairwells were redesigned and two new stairwells were constructed to add new points of entry and exit, especially during an emergency.

The design team was charged with creating a “collegiate” style that was unique to ASU, one that would evoke the qualities of the desert environment and the forward looking vision and high standards of the New American University.

The design and construction of the 95,000sf renovation was accomplished over a period of five months. The space has been transformed into a bright collection of rooms with ample public corridors and furnishings that evoke formal yet comfortable qualities.

Local and natural materials are used throughout: Arizona sandstone on the corridor walls, southwest mesquite wood on the Arizona Ballroom and corridor floors and western Douglas fir wood paneling on the ceiling. Custom carpets were designed featuring the colors of the desert southwest and even included ASU's sunburst logo in the ballrooms.

Historically significant spaces such as the Arizona Ballroom and the Alumni Lounge were renovated to evoke their special qualities while bringing the facility up to the highest technical, audiovisual and acoustic standards. Consistent with ASU’s and Studio Ma's commitment to sustainability, the project anticipates a LEED Silver rating.

Notable achievements include reducing energy costs for lighting by 70 percent ("EcoSysyem" lighting utilizes environmental sensors to automatically dim lighting), recycling 50 percent of the project's construction waste, 20 percent of the materials used are recycled content, and 30 percent of all materials are either regionally extracted or manufactured.

Two related projects at the Memorial Union visitors will see that are funded separately from money approved by ABOR for renovation after the fire include a new café replacing the Maricopa Café on the second floor and redesign of the North Plaza.

Engrained café is a sustainable dining and living-learning restaurant committed to locally grown food and environmentally friendly practices. It is funded with capital dollars provided by ASU’s partner, ARAMARK, and opens to the public Aug. 28.

The MU Plaza Project is being funded by University Student Initiatives. Phase I, which included the redesign of the plaza north of the Memorial Union, was successfully completed. The phase included removing and pouring new concrete throughout the North Plaza, the addition of a performance stage and new landscaping.

Phase II, which includes the installation of lighted shade canopies and additional seating, is also on schedule and will be completed by the end of January 2009.