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A front view of Coffman Union from one of the Washington Avenue pedestrian bridge.

A view of Coffman Union from one of the Washington Avenue pedestrian bridges.

Coffman wins design award for renovation

By Pauline Oo

From eNews, May 19, 2005

With 10 dining options and four entertainment venues under one roof, you won't go hungry or get bored any time soon at Coffman Memorial Union, touted by those who manage it as "a place on campus as comfortable as your own living room."

About 15,000 people visit the facility each day, according to the Twin Cities Student Unions and Student Activities Office, and as many as 36,000 people enter it daily during the first week of each semester (due to visits to the University bookstore).

Recently, the Association of College Unions International (ACUI) gave Coffman Union an award for the renovation it underwent between November 1999 and January 2003. The facility design award, the first of its kind from ACUI-a nonprofit organization for college union and student activities professionals--recognizes excellence in the design of student-centered facilities. The 22 entries were judged on the facilities' appearance, the process used to arrive at the design, and how the new or renovated facility has impacted the campus.

"We've certainly received terrific validation locally of the positive difference Coffman's improvements have made on the University community," says Maggie Towle, Twin Cities Student Unions (TCSU) director, "but it's always heartening to know our professional association recognizes our project as among the finest." Local Minneapolis firms, Ellerbe Becket (the architect and interior designer) and Ryan Companies (who designed and built the building) were largely responsible for the renovation.

Stamp of approval

The ACUI honored the following student union facilities for "excellence in design."

* Coffman Memorial Union, University of Minnesota

* Buntrock Commons, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota

* Shaw Student Center, Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah

* Hansen Student Center, Illinois Wesleyan University

* Bartlett Commons, University of Chicago

* Student Union/Student Activities Center, Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.

* University Memorial Center, University of Colorado-Boulder

* Student Union Memorial Center, University of Arizona

Coffman Union opened in 1939 to rave reviews of its elegant Steamship Modern character and was dedicated in honor of the University's fifth president, Lotus Delta Coffman (1920-1938), on October 25, 1940. The facility has since undergone two renovations. It lost many of its original features during the renovation in the mid-1970s, and so in 2001, the renovation was aimed at restoring much of the original character of the building--in addition to meeting health and safety codes and the needs of 21st-century students. According to a 1998 TCSU survey of U students, Coffman provided only 3 of the top 10 facilities or services the students wanted in their student union.

Over two years, 256,000 square feet of the building were renovated, including 14,000 square feet of food-service space and 22,000 square feet of the Campus Club. Today, the facility includes a 46,000-square-foot bookstore, Internet kiosk stations, a computer lab, a 400-seat movie and multipurpose theater, office space for 35 University culture centers and student organizations, and an air and heating system with enough power to cool or heat 220 homes. "Some day, the University of Minnesota will have a Student Union as the center of its social life," said former president Coffman in a speech in 1935. According to a TCSU survey in 2004, 86 percent of students rated Coffman "effective" in serving the needs of the campus community.

To take a virtual tour of Coffman and read fun facts and renovation history, see Coffman Union.

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