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October 11, 2002

Union may be transferred to university

A proposal to transfer the Memorial Union to the university will be forwarded to the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, for approval. Photo by Bob Elbert.
by Diana Pounds
The Memorial Union, a non-profit corporation since it opened in 1928, soon may become a more formal part of Iowa State University. Iowa State officials will ask the Board of Regents, State of Iowa, to accept the transfer of property from the Memorial Union corporation. The regents have the responsibility to acquire and control property on behalf of the state universities.

Student leaders initiated the proposal to transfer the Union to the university and have received the support of ISU President Gregory Geoffroy and other university officials.

The transfer would allow for more extensive renovation of the facility and subsequently, better services and programs for students, say T. J. Schneider, student body president, and Andy Tofilon, president of the Memorial Union Board of Directors.

The Union renovations that student leaders envision -- overall improvement of the facility, an expanded bookstore, additional alumni space, a multicultural center and modernization of all hotel rooms -- carries an estimated price tag of $30 million. Improvements to the building would be undertaken in phases.

"The current corporate structure doesn't allow for enough bonding and fund raising to do the kind of renovations we want to do," Tofilon said. "If the Union were part of the university, it could borrow more, as well as seek fund-raising assistance from the ISU Foundation."

The separate corporate set-up of the Memorial Union is unusual among university unions, said Warren Madden, vice president for business and finance. However, it was necessary in the '20s when the Union was built, because the university didn't have the authority to borrow the needed funds.

The early developers of the Union anticipated that the facility one day would become Iowa State property. An agreement called for the automatic transfer of Union to university, once the Memorial Union was debt-free or the university agreed to assume its debt.

Under the proposal before the regents, Iowa State would agree to assume the Memorial Union's approximate $4.7 million debt, which was incurred in the recent renovations of the food court and parking ramp. Increases in student fees and a new bond issue would be used to pay off the debt and underwrite new renovations, Madden said.

If the Union is transferred to Iowa State, its employees will become university employees. (The Union employs approximately 100 full-time staff and several hundred part-time staff.) Union operations would be under the supervision of vice president for student affairs Thomas Hill.

Students would continue to have responsibility for setting policies for use of Union facilities and student programming, Schneider said. Students would hold the majority of the seats on the Memorial Union Board of Directors and would oversee programming through the Student Union Board.

The Memorial Union Board of Directors unanimously approved the proposal to transfer the Union to the university at its Sept. 27 meeting. The ISU Government of the Student Body will ratify the contract on behalf of ISU students.

ISU officials anticipate forwarding the proposal to the Board of Regents for consideration at the regents November meeting.

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