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Sunday, March 1, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 27.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
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Arts Beat: UW's Memorial Union to undergo major renovations
Historic interiors will be preserved

One of the most beloved arts, entertainment and recreation venues in the city is about to get a makeover. The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Memorial Union is embarking on a renovation that could result in major changes to the 1928 building.

"For creativity purposes, at this point nothing is off the table for the architects," says Paul Davidsaver, the renovation's student project manager. "However, they are well aware of our desire for historic preservation and adding space only where appropriate to support our activities, so long as it fits the charm of the building."

In 2006, students passed an initiative that set aside a portion of their segregated fees for a new Union South and a Memorial Union renovation/restoration/preservation effort that officials characterize as "reinvestment."

"The cost for the Memorial Union will rival or even exceed Union South," says Davidsaver. The new Union South, still under construction, will cost $94.8 million. That will come from fees, the Wisconsin Union operating budget and other funds. Only a third of the necessary Memorial money is in hand. "We're hoping that as [the project] gets under way, we get more donor and alumni contributions."

The west wing will be reconstructed first, with costs totaling $52 million. Two more phases will follow. Construction is expected to begin the day after 2012 graduation, and completion is scheduled for 2014.

The process has included study by architectural firms Uihlein Wilson of Milwaukee and Moody-Nolan of Columbus, Ohio. Union members, UW alumni faculty and staff have also weighed in, and a massive historic-structure report has been compiled. The report fills seven DVDs.

Could parts of the building be gutted?

"There will be some of that," says Davidsaver. "We have some rooms that are extremely significant, and it's going to be a straight preservation. But there are other rooms that have no historical significance about them, and we can enhance our services by renovating them."

Almost certainly, changes will be made to ventilation and wheelchair access.

"At one point, the architects counted 18 different levels in one area. So we have huge concerns with Americans with Disabilities Act compliance," says Davidsaver.

"When alumni come back, the only thing I really want them to notice is that there aren't 16 different climate zones as they walk through the building. There will be new spaces for them to discover, but the places they hold dear in their hearts will still feel that way. It just may not smell as bad because of the lack of ventilation."

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