Less than a week from the end of the spring semester, Northeast Community College is opening a long-awaited fixture of its Norfolk campus.
Union 73, a $22.3 million student center, fully opened to campus on Monday after about two years of construction. The two-level facility includes several amenities, including a coffee shop, restaurant, academic support office, student services and multiple study and lounge spaces.
The 63,851-square-foot center also has meeting rooms and classrooms, a mailroom, bookstore, college library, health and counseling center, leadership office and student food pantry.
The college hosted a soft opening with tours for students and staff on Thursday. Amanda Nipp, vice president of student services, said she’s received overwhelmingly positive feedback from students who have seen the union.
“The students are just amazed at the amount of space and options they have,” she said. “I’m anticipating they will find their favorite spots in the building — there is such a variety of seating. I think students are really excited about the spaces they’re going to utilize in that building.”
The center features Union Coffee, a coffee shop moved from the college’s welcoming center, which opened Monday along with the rest of the building. The union’s restaurant, Legends Grille, will serve dishes like hamburgers, chicken tenders and a rotating option when it opens later at the beginning of July.
Summer hours will be from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., but students will be able to access the building later during the school year. Nipp said administrators are still discussing how late the center should stay open for activities like study groups.
“We planned it this fall to kind of be a trial and error with the hours,” Nipp said.
Construction was delayed more than once since it started in the spring of 2019. While weather was an issue early on, COVID-19 played a substantial role in the delay of supplies. There were also some staffing issues as construction workers contracted the virus.
In 2017, the previous student center was identified as one of Northeast’s Norfolk campus buildings in the greatest need of renovation and repairs because of its aging exterior, electrical systems and accessibility, according to the college’s website. It was decided soon after to expand the building to address the issues and space deficiencies.
The name Union 73 relates to both a student union on a college campus and to the 1973 merger of Northeastern Nebraska College and Northeast Nebraska Technical College, which created Northeast Community College.
“One of the things we talked about with this building is we see it as kind of a living room of campus. We want students to feel like this is a place they can call their own, be relaxed in, meet friends and study in,” Nipp said. “It's important this is a comfortable and useful space for them.”