University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee leaders will reassess their plans after less than 36 percent of students backed a proposal for a $129 million renovation of the campus’ aging student union.
[caption id="attachment_321023" align="alignright" width="344"] UWM officials say the student union needs at least $34 million in capital maintenance in the next 10 years.[/caption]
The plan would have ultimately increased student fees by $124 per semester to fund the project. Students currently pay $75 per semester and the increase would have been phased in over five years.
Voting on the project was tied to registration for spring semester classes and 18,460 students participated. Just 35.6 voted in favor of the increase, 48 percent voted no and 16.4 percent abstained.
Mark Mone, UWM chancellor, acknowledge the university was asking for a fee increase “at a time of heightened concern about the cost of a college education.”
“While we may have preferred a vote that would set the path toward a building project, we hear the students and will take their voice into account as we move ahead and work to maintain and enhance the current facility and create an environment that is comfortable for students,” said Mark Mone, UWM chancellor. “We will continue to work with student organizations who helped support the effort and other administrative partners to craft a plan that allows the Union to live out its mission of service to UWM students.”
Michelle Johnson, a UWM spokeswoman, and Richard Thomas, UWM student union director, said in emails it is too soon to know what the path forward will be. The referendum was advisory and the Board of Regents and UW System would have had to approve the increase.
The university had hoped to have funding for the project included in the next state budget and to begin construction in 2020. The plans called for renovations to roughly 64 percent of the building and the demolition and new construction on the remaining 36 percent. Parts of the 328,000-square-foot union date back to 1956 and the university says the building will need $34 million in repairs by 2024.
“While this referendum to potentially fund a larger project failed, the deferred maintenance needs with the existing facility remain and we will be refining our priority list of the most urgent needs to explore how we can address them,” Thomas said.
UWM has asked students to support funding for union projects twice in the last 10 years. In 2010, students were asked to support a smaller renovation that would also address deferred maintenance. That voted failed 53 percent to 47 percent with about 2,600 students participating
A second vote in 2012 proposed a $282 per semester increase in fees to demolish and replace the existing building. That vote passed 72 percent to 28 percent, but just 4,000 students participated.
The most recent vote garnered higher participation and Thomas said the university believes it was the first time the process has been used in the UW System.