Union Spotlight on the Student Union at University of Louisiana–Lafayette
University Of Louisiana–Lafayette
Four-year, public, urban, commuter
Enrollment: 17,500 full-time
Location: Lafayette, Louisiana
Year Built: 1971
Size: 175,000 sq. ft.
Director: Dawn Miller
Annual Operating Budget: $2.1 million
Student Staff: 23 part-time
Nonstudent Staff: 11 full-time
Serving on a university program council can be a challenge for any student, but at the University of Louisiana Lafayette the job can involve organizing a 20,000-pound crayfish boil, figuring out what to do with a wild 50-pound snapping turtle crawling around outside the student union, or calming the nerves of a visitor unaccustomed to hanging out in a greenspace shared by alligators.
But that’s one of the things that makes the Lafayette campus’s student union so special. It literally wraps around the natural space known as Cypress Lake, a two-acre oasis home to purple and yellow irises, moss-draped cypress trees, hawks, egrets, herons, and yes, alligators.
“Female alligators may make their nest in shallow parts of Cypress Lake,” noted a recent post on the union’s Facebook page that also offered tips to avoid taking pets near the water’s edge, to supervise children at all times, and to never feed those sharp-toothed creatures.
“It’s a treasured university landmark,” assistant director of facilities Garland Rodriquez said. “It is a carefully controlled and delicate wetland teeming with plants and wildlife.” The only controlled wetland on a college campus in the United States is also the centerpiece for unique, annual campus events like a canoe race and a lake jump.
It fits well that as the neighbor to a natural treasure like Cypress Lake the student union is the only LEED Silver certified public building in the city of around 130,000 people. The building was renovated and expanded by 50,000 square feet in 2015 to include more office, lounge, and dining space. Each of its 21 meeting rooms are enhanced with smart audio and video technology, and those spaces have joined equipment rentals, information table space rentals, and Louisiana Spice Catering & Wedding Planning as income-generators.
In 2017 a new plaza was constructed around the union next to Cypress Lake, and this year a second phase of the plaza was completed with the addition of pergolas and a pedestrian pier out to the center of the lake. Students can take care of business at student engagement and leadership, study abroad, dean of students, residential life, and bursar offices, shop or dine at the Ragin’ Cajun store, dining hall, coffee shop, or deli, and then step out on the plaza and be lost in nature.
That all-around, perfect experience would not be possible, Rodriquez noted, without students. “Our student staff is our lifeblood and without them the union could not be successful.” Students prep meeting rooms, do event set-up and teardown, work the events, handle the information desk, and staff the building during nights and weekends thanks to a successful building manager internship program.