UND breaks ground on new Memorial Union

Student leaders past and present gather to commemorate effort; project years in the making

From left to right: Student Body Vice President Matthew Ternus, Student Body President Gracie Lian, State Board of Higher Education Student Representative Kaleb Dschaak, Associate Dean of Students Cassie Gerhardt, former Student Body President Cole Bachmeier, former Student Body President Erik Hanson and former Student Body President Matthew Kopp stand with shovels ready at the Memorial Union construction site. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Standing under overcast skies and in a blustery fall wind, with a vacant lot behind her and a muddy campus lawn in front of her, Gracie Lian had every reason to frown.

Instead, the UND student body president beamed. “It’s a great time to be at UND,” she said.

A few minutes later, capping off what was perhaps one of the busier UND Homecoming Weeks in recent memory, Lian stood with UND officials and preceding student body leaders as they scooped the ceremonial shovel loads at the groundbreaking of the new UND Memorial Union. A bundled-up crowd of spectators cheered.

UND Interim President Joshua Wynne was there as well. “The warmth today is in our hearts, as it isn’t in the atmosphere,” Wynne said to laughter. He headlined a list of speakers that included Lian, former Student Body President Erik Hanson, Vice President for Student Affairs & Diversity Cara Halgren and DeAnna Carlson Zink, CEO of the UND Alumni Association & Foundation.

Having recently completed the old Memorial Union’s demolition, construction crews are ready for the first steps of building a new Memorial Union.

Lian had her high-school-senior brother in mind as she made her remarks. The campus leader proclaimed a new Union means new opportunities for students, and that it will be the focal point of future generations on campus.

“Thinking about him and others experiencing a new Union, and thinking about future students benefiting from the hard work that came years before me is really something special,” she said. “The Union has always been at the center of student activities. It’s where change happened, where students grew.”

Hanson, student body president during the previous academic year, spoke on the multi-year process, through multiple administrations, that led to Friday’s groundbreaking occasion. He presided over the student vote that pushed the multi-million -dollar project forward. Photo by Mike Hess/UND Today.

Significant project

Former Student Body President Hanson was in Lian’s position when the vote went through on Nov. 20 last year to raise student fees and make a new facility possible.

Scheduled for completion in two years’ time, the new Memorial Union will offer the amenities UND community members know and love and a whole lot more. Its technology will be up-to-date and improved, its dining options more varied and its meeting spaces more versatile.

Hanson knew that by joining student government, he would be doing things that were important and would impact students, but the Union project was by far the most significant. In front of the audience, he detailed the work of student leaders before him that had earned buy-in from the rest of campus.

And “we are just so grateful that there are so many who stepped up to help who weren’t students,” he said. “Administration, staff, the architect team – all of these people came together to say, ‘How can we take everything students want and put them toward something that will be the best outcome for UND?’”

Looking at the way student investment created a top-notch facility in the form of the Wellness Center, students were receptive to the Memorial Union pitch, Hanson said. He later mentioned how impressed he was with all of the changes now happening on campus.

“I’ve been gone for three months, and this place looks like an entirely new one,” the UND graduate said. “And if we can accomplish that in three months, I can’t wait to see what we accomplish in three years.

“I’m so proud that students decided to invest in the campus and the place they want for future students of UND to enjoy.”

New memories, new opportunities

While visiting with alumni throughout the country and drumming up support for the University, DeAnna Carlson Zink encounters many with fond Union memories.

It’s where alums met their spouse, where they got engaged, where they attended events and hung out on weekends. They ask the Alumni Association & Foundation CEO, “How can UND tear down the Union? Don’t you want students tomorrow to have the same memories?”

But “do you think the students want to be in the same kind of building, built in 1951?” Carlson Zink answers.

“And they get it. They’re excited for us,” Carlson Zink told the audience. “It’s going to be so wonderful to welcome alumni back into a new Union for homecomings well into the future.”

Driving down a future, restructured University Avenue, alumni, students and others will be able to see the Nistler College of Business & Public Administration, the renovated Chester Fritz Library and a glistening gateway to campus in a new Memorial Union.

Coming from the Nistler celebration earlier in the afternoon, which honored the lead donors for the new CoBPA, Carlson Zink said the $80 million Union project positions students as UND heroes.

“We love being partners with our students, and together we are building an even better future for this great University,” she said.