Student government seeks to modernize Smith Memorial Student Union

Maybe the third time is in fact the charm.

An effort to modernize Portland State University’s Smith Memorial Student Union (SMSU) building is underway once again through Associated Students of PSU, Portland State’s student government. PSU students will have an opportunity to decide whether to upgrade the aging building, repair it and allow future Vikings to have some say with their student union building.

Students will feel more at home on their campus if PSU has a modern student union similar to those that are common at other large state universities, said Emily Korte, a Smith Advisory Board chair and ASPSU University Affairs director.

Open house
Wed., April 3

Noon to 3 p.m.
Parkway North (SMSU 101)

“It’s important to think about the feeling you want a campus to have, not just a place you're paying for and need to come to, but a place you’d actually want to come sit down and read a book or something on a rainy day,” said Korte, a senior majoring in political science.

Built in 1957, Smith is outdated, inaccessible, unsafe and lacking in student space, Korte said. The building needs a facelift and structural repairs that will cost millions.

Recognizing this, the ASPSU Student Fee Committee hired Opsis Architecture to provide students with options ranging from fixing broken infrastructure to completely renovating the entire 222,000-square-foot building.  

A steering committee comprised of student government representatives, students, campus planning staff and Opsis employees are leaning toward what’s known as Option 3, which eliminates the confusing mezzanine floors, adds more than 21,000 square feet of space and constructs a new facade on the Broadway side of the building, Korte said. The proposal calls for construction — which could take between 18 and 24 months — to begin in 2022.

Proposed Options

SMSU Modernization Option 1

Option 1: Partial Renovation — Accessibility upgrades, complete deferred maintenance — $37-$38 million

SMSU Modernization Option 2

Option 2: Four Story Renovation — Accessibility upgrades, complete deferred maintenance, reconfigure some spaces, exterior upgrade — $78-83 million

SMSU Modernization Option 3

Option 3: New Five Story NE Quadrant — Accessibility upgrades, complete deferred maintenance, reconfigure some spaces, exterior upgrades, eliminate mezzanine levels — $105-$114 million

SMSU Modernization Option 4

Option 4: New Six Story NE Quadrant — Accessibility upgrades, complete deferred maintenance, reconfigure some spaces, exterior upgrades, eliminate mezzanine levels, add sixth story in NE quadrant — $110-$120 million

The other options include keeping the mezzanine floors but reconfiguring some spaces and making the building more accessible, and eliminating the mezzanine floors entirely and adding a sixth story. Just improving accessibility and attending to deferred maintenance is another option. All four options would be paid for by the student fees of future students.

Rather than move forward with another referendum and ask students to vote on a specific option, as was the case in 2015, Korte said the steering committee will try an email survey to gather general student support.

“Ultimately, every student will get a survey through their PSU email on May 6 and we’ll continuously send it out over the next two weeks and hope to get a decent amount of responses,” said Korte, adding that the steering committee hopes to get between 5,000 and 8,000 responses.

If students support the modernization effort, then the proposal will be sent to the PSU Board of Trustees and President Rahmat Shoureshi for approval.

“Even if we do nothing, student costs are still going to go up because at some point this building will fail,” Korte added.

Julia Michel, a planning analyst with PSU’s Campus Planning Office, said Smith has between $18 million and $24 million in deferred maintenance costs.

Student fee 
Approx. $78 per term for preferred option 
(existing fee $470 for full-time students)

Rather than pay for maintenance that won’t improve the student experience, the Smith Advisory Board is hoping students will support a larger fee in exchange for a modern student union building that better serves its population.

Michel said if students support modernization, the tentative plan is to delay the fee increase until a year before construction is complete to limit the number of students paying for construction who won’t directly benefit from it.

Student funding for the building also means students would have more control over space allocation in the building, according to Alex Accetta, assistant vice president of Campus Rec and Student Union Services.

“Smith is not meant to be a student union for 27,000 students — it’s not even close,” Accetta said. “We’re very different than we were 60 years ago and this building has not changed to meet the needs of today’s students.”

Under Option 3, the preferred option, the project could cost between $105 million and $114 million. The student fee would be approximately an additional $78 a term. Full-time students currently pay $470 per term in student fees.

“I think it has a potential to increase enrollment and help students stay in school if students feel more at home and safe and comfortable,” Korte said.

For more information, attend an open house from noon to 3 p.m. on April 3 in Parkway North (SMSU 101).

Story by Katy Swordfisk
Homepage and top images courtesy of Campus Rec and Student Union Services
Option diagrams by Opsis Architecture