The 1970s were a time of innovation; the decade spawned Star Wars and saw the popularization of bell bottoms, after all. But not everything fashioned in the ’70s was quite as auspicious: Cal Poly’s University Union Plaza, for example.
The plaza, originally built to allow students a place to mingle and relax, is now mostly known for its abundance of concrete and lack of landscaping.
“It has its critics,” Associated Students Inc. President Brandon Souza said. “The design doesn’t make the most efficient use of space.”
Political science senior Eyal Binshtock agreed. “It’s pretty ugly. And it gets really crowded between classes.”
Just like certain fashion trends and once mind-boggling special effects, the plaza has become dated after 30-odd years. University representatives now want to fix that.
“We want to completely tear down and rebuild the area,” Souza said.
The vision is to transform the plaza into a venue capable of hosting multiple activities, including club fairs, large concerts and other activities.
“The goal is to open it up for more programmable space,” Souza said.
Since its conception, the plaza has been used as a hangout for students before and after classes. Clubs and greek organizations set up booths along the edge by the bookstore and bands perform during UU Hour on Thursdays. But the plaza is empty at night and on the weekends, and Souza sees this as a problem.
The idea to renovate came about approximately three years ago when the University Union Advisory Board (UUAB) surveyed the campus and discovered that students were unhappy with the current design of the plaza. Ever since, the UUAB has been working to update it.
“It’s the job of the union board to keep the facilities updated,” UUAB chair Nicole Stromsness said.
The plan to redesign the area took a big step forward Jan. 30 at the UUAB meeting when San Luis Obispo-based Omni Design Group, Inc. unveiled a possible design of the new plaza. The computer presentation showed a 3D model of what the new plaza would look like, complete with students walking through and relaxing on the grounds.
A local landscaping company, Oasis Associates, Inc., appeared as well to discuss their thoughts on adding vegetation to the area.
Among the many changes to the plaza, 10 to 15 trees would be added for shade, including one large “statement tree,” possibly a jacaranda, according to Oasis. Other changes would include placing a large grassy slope near the bus stop on which students could relax and removing the large cement stairs in the middle of the plaza.
One of the biggest changes would be the placement of the stage. Omni’s plan is to move the stage so it resides next to Backstage Pizza. The stage would be level with South Perimeter Drive, which would give the plaza easier street-side accessibility for both students and bands carrying gear from their cars. A translucent awning would be installed over the stage as well.
The model was generally well received by the board and only specifics were debated, including the placement of a sculpture.
Omni Design Group, Inc. had originally envisioned placing a sculpture or a fountain in the center of the plaza to serve as a focal point.
However, the Landscape Advisory Board thought that the sculpture would hinder pedestrian traffic flow and asked that it be placed closer to the edge of the plaza, near the bookstore.
The UUAB was divided on the issue and the discussion over the sculpture was tabled.
“We really just want to make the area more accessible for students,” Stromsness said.
Though construction isn’t due to start until June 2009, there is still much to be done before then.
“The UUAB still has to endorse the design, then the Landscape Advisory Board needs to check it over. We also have to make sure we have enough reserve funds,” director of business services Dwayne Brummet said.
Assuming the plans are approved on time, construction should run from June to December 2009, Stromsness said.
The summer start time will help limit inconvenience to students.
“Obviously, the bookstore, University Union and a few other buildings will be near the construction, but for the most part it shouldn’t affect classrooms,” Souza said. “We definitely want to minimize the impact on students.”