OXFORD, Miss. – The University of Mississippi will begin a four-year, $50 million renovation and expansion of its Student Union this summer, which will include a larger dining area, new student government offices, a ballroom, conference space and other amenities.
A full university committee spent years studying ways to upgrade the building, visiting student unions at Auburn University, Louisiana State University and others. Ultimately, the committee decided to renovate the existing Ole Miss Student Union, but also to increase its size from 97,000 square feet to about 157,000 square feet, said Leslie Banahan, UM assistant vice chancellor for student affairs.
“It’s going to dramatically improve what we can offer our students,” Banahan said. “There will be an incredible synergy, a large work space so students can collaborate together and a dedicated space for students to meet. We’re going to have space to allow us to host a comedian’s performance, or a lecture or a musical act. It’ll be a dedicated area where we can have concerts or step shows. This new renovated and expanded Student Union will become the true heart of the campus.”
The renovations call for a new Associated Student Body Senate chamber with theater-style seating that can be used for other events, she said. Plans also include an approximately 8,000-square foot ballroom, with a large prep area adjoining it. Other amenities include new student lounge areas, new administrative offices and possibly new retail space.
The project will be handled in phases over about four years, which should minimize disruption. The bookstore and food court inside the Student Union will remain open throughout construction.
While studying alternatives for the renovations, UM officials toured several schools with higher enrollments than Ole Miss, finding many either didn’t have post offices on campus or had far fewer boxes than UM. The committee decided the best idea is to renovate the lower level of the building for other purposes and close the on-campus branch of the U.S. Postal Service. Campus mail services will continue with a new system.
“It’s just part of the complete renovated Union process,” said Clayton Jones, UM assistant vice chancellor and director of Human Resources and Contractual Services. “I think the important thing is we’re going to still have mail to the departments and mail to our students. Those people are going to be taken care of.”
The 10,000-square foot post office will shut down permanently June 30. UM Student Housing will still deliver mail and care packages to students who live in residence halls, and university employees will continue to receive business mail at the departments where they work.
The first floor lobby of Crosby Hall will become a mail and package center to serve students who live in residence halls. The university is in talks with Pitney Bowes about installing a system at Crosby with mail kept in secure lockers, said Lionel Maten, UM student housing director.
Students would receive a text message or email when mail arrives for them. They’d go to Crosby Hall and swipe their ID card at a kiosk, enter their PIN code and open a locker with their mail in it.
The new system offers better security and will be an overall upgrade for students, Maten said.
“It’s going to be a huge improvement,” he said. “The administration is going to make sure students don’t see any services discontinued in the fall.”
The university will keep its 38677 ZIP code, which allows the mail to be “pre-sorted” by U.S. Postal Service workers before being delivered to campus each day, said Jim Windham, UM director of procurement. Mail headed for UM will no longer be trucked to the Student Union, but instead will be delivered to the university’s Jackson Avenue Center. Campus mail workers will drive the mail from there to deliver it to university buildings.
“Administrators and faculty members who receive business mail through the campus mail system will not notice any change whatsoever,” Windham said. “We will continue to sort the mail, load our delivery vans and make our mail runs. There should be no interruption of service.”
Those UM retirees, employees and others who had a mailbox in the Student Union will have the option of getting a P.O. box at Oxford’s post office on McElroy Drive. The boxes are expected to be available on a first-come, first-served basis. The off-campus boxes might actually be easier to access because of higher demand for parking near the Union. Some details of the plans are still being worked out.
The Postal Service hasn’t released official plans, but it’s expected a public hearing will take place before the post office decision becomes final. The Postal Service has not announced a public meeting yet.