Student Activity Center gets decked out with new exterior renovations

Brooke Vincent

Students can rock around an outdoor fireplace and swing in hammocks under the trees this coming fall semester at the Student Activity Center.

The exterior space on the south side of the building is being renovated into “outdoor living rooms” to give students a better space to lounge, eat and study. The project’s budget of $3 million covers the addition of new outdoor decking, a hammock lounge, a water feature, the campus’ first outdoor fireplace, 30 additional power outlets and 230 added seats.

“We wanted the spaces to appeal to students during the day and early evening throughout the year,” said Michelle Rossomando, principal at McKinney York Architects. “The design has two main areas, the ‘tree deck’ area — an elevated wood deck with built-in wood benches, tables and chairs that surround two large trees to take advantage of the shade provided, and the ‘fire lounge’ area — a brick patio with lounge furniture around a fire pit under
the tree canopy.”

Designed by McKinney York Architects and built by Vaughn Construction, the space will repurpose and conserve existing structures. Old runnels, or decorative channels in the area that hold water, will be converted into bench seating and workers have set up protection for the existing trees so their canopy can shade the deck.

“We’ve been working closely with Jim Carse from landscape services, coordinating all the tree protection efforts, repurposing or relocating trees and all other sustainable aspects,” said Hirokazu Horikoshi, UT project manager. “The original cistern right now collects water that otherwise would go to storm drains and (reuses) that for irrigation purposes. It’s always been there, but we’re repairing it.”

It’s important to have a space for fresh air, said Jordan Rickaway, public health freshman. She said after moving to Austin, she felt depressed from being cooped up in the city.

“There’s not a lot of places to lounge around outside, especially around campus, because there is so much construction that is really loud,” Rickaway said. “I basically lived outdoors back home, and it’s hard being inside all day. Having outdoor space where necessities are is great and gives you a little peace and serenity.”

From day one, making the space accessible to all students was a priority, said Nick Parras, University Unions assistant director. Entrance and exit ramps will be placed throughout the outdoor area to facilitate easy access to students who use wheelchairs.

“The Student Activity Center was built in collaboration with the Services for Students with Disabilities office to try and make this building not just at campus code and standards, but beyond it,” Parras said. “Thankfully our architects (for this project) were able to do that from the beginning and they worked everything else around that instead of building and then saying, ‘Whoops.’ This was a priority.”

Construction is scheduled to end May 25, and the complete space should be ready for the upcoming fall semester, Parras said.

“We hope that the fences come down and even if we don’t have a band and giant scissors and giveaways, people will naturally migrate to the space and be in it from seven in the morning to when we close at one at night,” Parras said. “This isn’t for donors, this isn’t for coaches, this isn’t for the general public. This is about extending the student space.”