Walking into CSU-Pueblo’s Occhiato University Center is like entering a time machine and being swept back to the days of disco, turtle necked shirts and bell-bottom trousers.
Built in 1974, the OUC began as a modern, cutting-edge facility that served students at Southern Colorado State College. Just one year later, SCSC earned university status, becoming the University of Southern Colorado and finally, Colorado State University-Pueblo.
The building has been the cornerstone of the evolving campus for four decades, and as the OUC approaches middle-age, the time has come for a major overhaul.
While the OUC is still functional, it is dated and lacks the open, well-lit spaces and comfortable gathering areas that students enjoy. It also lacks the proper infrastructure and technology needed to manage the many offices and departments housed there.
Associated Students’ Government Vice President Mario Ruiz said that the aging building has seen only limited upgrades such as fresh paint and new carpet over the last 40 years.
“It is due for some real renovations,” Ruiz said.
Plans for these renovations have been in the works for several years, and students’ interests have been represented by members of the ASG in planning meetings and committees associated with the renovations.
“The ASG has already been involved at every step of the process, as this is the student center. The administration feels strongly, and we believe correctly that students should have a major say in how it is renovated. It is our student center, after all,” Ruiz said.
The actual work should begin sometime in the spring of 2015 with an estimated timeline for completion in 2018. This semester, the bid process, which is regulated by the state, is in the beginning stages, and ASG President Timothy Zercher explained how that process works.
“First, we put out for possible contractors. They send us their qualifications, and they are ranked by the (selecting) committee. They are individually ranked, and committee members cannot influence each other,” he said.
“Then, based on those rankings, we choose the largest gap between the higher ranked and lower ranked. The higher ranked are then actually brought in for interviews. Once the committee finally picks a design-build team, which includes a contractor and designer, we move to the actual designing of the building in detail and getting student, staff and community input. Once the designing is finished, then we obviously go into breaking ground,” Zercher said.
Zercher also said two new committees will begin work in the coming months, after a design-build team is chosen.
“The designing committee will be focused on actually overseeing and guiding the design process of the new OUC,” he said. “The New OUC Advisory Board will focus on making sure to communicate all needs that the current OUC must continue to meet, as well as needs that the current OUC is not meeting, and these will need to be considered in the design process. This is the board where the staff of the OUC and general students will really get their input on the project.”
According to Ruiz, renovations will include almost every part of the current OUC.
“We cannot say specifically what will be in the new OUC, but it will look somewhat similar to our great new Library and Academic Resources Center. We hope to stick to a similar design to make sure it looks like part of the university, while still remaining very modern and welcoming,” Ruiz said.
The estimated cost of the renovation will be approximately $35 million, but according to Zercher, once all the interest is paid on the current and future bonds, the total will approach $50 million.
“You have to remember that all that money isn’t spent right away,” Zercher said. “It’s spent over a number of years. Student fees will be paying the majority of that, and the Foundation will fund a certain optional wing for an estimated $5 million. This optional wing being funded, however, depends on the funds the Foundation is able to raise in their “On the Move” campaign.”
When compared to the cost of the new classroom building currently being constructed on the west side of campus, the renovation costs seem extraordinarily high. The new classroom building, which is funded by the state, will cost approximately $16 million according to a press release from the university. The OUC renovations will total more than twice that amount.
ASG Speaker Pro-temp Anthony Schievelbein explained that several factors contribute to the higher expense of the renovation.
“One is because of the size of the building. Then, the upgrades to the building are going to be significant, because it’s taking this building, upgrading it as well as adding new pieces to the structure,” Schievelbein said. “With the entire building being as large as it is, with three floors, and then you have to add an extra piece onto that, while keeping the general structure.”
“It includes the cost of tearing down to the baseboards and then putting it back up, moving plumbing and things like that, and they are also putting in some high electronic upgrades as well,” Schievelbein added.
“And that one (new classroom building) doesn’t have to operate,” Zercher said. “This one has to operate. We’re not going to shut down the OUC for two years.”
Because the current facility houses such necessities as the dining hall and bookstore, renovations will need to be done in stages.
“You basically have to have two versions of the same building functioning at the same time. You have to build the new cafeteria while you still have the old cafeteria working. As soon as the new cafeteria is built, you have to run everyone over in one night, and then you can start demolishing. Similarly, the bookstore can’t be touched until the new one is done. So that’s a lot of the cost,” Zercher said.
The bonds that supported the original OUC build have just recently expired according to Zercher.
Ruiz said the new bonds that will cover the renovations will last for 30 years, officially expiring in 2044.
Although the renovations will be difficult and costly, the ASG, the Foundation and everyone involved in the project should have much to be proud of when the new building is complete. It will once again be a modern, cutting-edge facility for CSU-Pueblo students to enjoy.
By the time the bonds expire in 2044, the Occhiato University Center will be 70 years old, and the campus community at CSU-Pueblo will likely be preparing for another major renovation.