This article was updated Feb. 5, 2024.
Prompted by students’ calls for an updated student union, the Carolina Union Board of Directors has begun to look into possible renovations.
Tanner “TJ” Edwards, a senior and chair of the board, said the plan to rebuild was initially discussed in 2017 but was postponed by University administration and has not been seriously discussed since. Edwards was named chair in 2023 and said at the time proposing the renovation is a top priority.
“The new Carolina Union has the opportunity to provide increased variety in dining options, more study spaces, better facilities for events, and permanent offices and meeting spaces for our student organizations, cultural centers and student government,” Edwards said in an email. “These improvements would foster a tighter-knit Carolina Community, uplift our underrepresented groups and move our student experience to mirror our status as the flagship of the North Carolina Public University System.”
The Frank Porter Graham Student Union was built in 1968 and is one of the oldest student unions in the University system. Edwards plans to visit North Carolina public universities that have built a new student union in the past 15 years. Last fall, Edwards and Executive Director of the Union Alexandra Marchesano visited East Carolina University and N.C. State University. They plan to visit UNC-Charlotte, N.C. A&T State University and N.C. Central University this semester.
“Visiting other unions across the state has been an eye-opening experience for me,” Edwards said. “I never truly understood what a student union could offer until I went on these tours.” Edwards said the Talley Student Union at NCSU has a sit-down bistro, and ECU has a separate student union on the Health Sciences Campus, which has a slide between floors.
Edwards has been working with Student Body President Christopher Everett, who sits on the Carolina Union Board of Directors and the UNC Board of Trustees.
“I envision a union that is a center for student wellness,” said Everett. “As of now, there are a lot of student resources that are dispersed around campus. My hope is that the new union will be a place where students can find everything that they need to be successful at Carolina, whether that’s student organizations or student services” such as Counseling and Psychological Services, and Accessibility Resources & Service.
Planning for a renovated student union is expected to take several years, Marchesano said. “The process of getting this construction project approved would be extensive and involved getting support from students, University leadership, the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors,” she said in an email. “To move forward, funding for this project would need to be defined and approved, which would likely come from a combination of University/state resources, bonds, student fees and donor support.”
At the November UNC Board of Trustees meeting, Everett gave a presentation comparing UNC’s student facilities to those at other UNC System universities. “I love this university. But I know that a name can do but so much,” Everett told the Review in November. “As the student body president, I always find myself hearing countless stories of students being excited to come here because of the name and brand recognition of our University, but then experience a rude awakening in terms of its offerings — and the student union and our recreational facilities are just two examples.” (See “Trustees Approve Tuition and Fees Increases,” January/February 2024 Review.)
The University’s master plan, developed in 2019, includes the renovation of the student union. Board of Trustee’s Chair John Preyer ’90, along with other trustees, took a tour of the University’s recreational facilities and student union on Jan. 18.
“Frankly, I was appalled by the state of our student exercise facilities,” Preyer said. “I am grateful that student body president Chris Everett asked members of the board to go on a tour and see first-hand what students are experiencing. We know there are competing priorities for funds at the University, but we must find ways to improve the facilities to support the health and wellbeing of our students. It’s important we address this issue.”
Edwards plans to meet with student leaders Feb. 7 to discuss preliminary plans for renovations and feedback. “With the possibility of more spaces, there is more opportunity for a lot of different organizations,” Everett said. “I think the goal should be to have more students call the union their space, their home, and I hope that a rebuild would be able to do so.”
— Cameron Hayes Fardy ’23