San Marcos,
16:13 PM

The New Heart of CSUSM, USU Opens Its Doors

By Christine Vaughan & Katie Chappell

CSUSM’s new University Student Union (USU) opened to the campus community on the first day of the spring semester after 23 months of construction. The four-story, nearly 90,000 sq. ft. building has become the new heart of campus and hub of student life.

Located near the center of campus between Kellogg Library and Chavez Plaza, the USU features new dining options, an open-air amphitheater, a student activity center with a game lounge, a rooftop garden and patio, and a 9,000 sq. ft. ballroom.

“The USU was designed with the input of students and is all about serving students,” said senior Dominica Ranieri, chair of the student-led USU Advisory Board. “The new space brings a new vibe to campus, and will help create a stronger sense of community and collaborative spirit.”

While the Union is open to the campus, during the next few months CSUSM will continue putting the final touches on the building and fine-tuning its many services in preparation for the grand opening in April 2014.

Explore the USU

Tours of the building will be held during opening week, Jan. 21-24, every hour on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. accommodating 15 people per tour. The 30-minute tour will start at the Information Desk located in the East Pavilion, adjacent to Jazzman’s Café and Bakery.

Eat at the USU

The fourth floor West Pavilion is home to four full-service eateries including SubVersions, a made-to-order deli and sandwich shop; Wholly Habaneros, offering a selection of fresh Mexican cuisine; WOW Cafe and Wingery, serving American grill favorites with over 20 signature sauces; andPanda Express, featuring robust flavors of Mandarin and Szechuan cuisine.

The USU also adds a new coffee house to campus. Located in the East Pavilion, Jazzman’s Café and Bakery brews up specialty coffee beverages and offers fresh pastries daily. A convenience store featuring a Jamba Juice smoothie bar can also be found in the East Pavilion.

Relax at the USU

Student lounges both indoor and outdoor offer ample space for students to relax. A commuter lounge on the first floor features couches, microwaves, nearby lockers, a shower facility, computer and printing stations, vending machines, an ATM and more.

The outdoor pavilions, rooftop patio and multiple terraces add an additional 10,000 sq. ft. of useable space. The signature rooftop patio offers picturesque views of San Marcos and the campus, and features a sustainable live roof garden with 16 species of indigenous plants and grasses. The live roof garden is among the key sustainable features of the USU, helping regulate the building’s temperature and reduce energy use. The USU was designed and built with sustainability in mind to meet LEED Gold standards. Other green features include solar panels on the pavilion roofs, use of natural lighting throughout the building and a water reclamation system.

The open-air amphitheater can seat up to 400 people and sliding glass doors on the stage can open up into the ballroom to create one combined venue. The 9,000 sq. ft. ballroom has moveable walls to accommodate events of all sizes.

The Reflection Lounge and Tranquility Lounge on the fourth floor offer restful spaces for students to meditate or recharge between classes.

Play at the USU

The USU Activity Center, located on the fourth floor of the East Pavilion, features two recreational areas: the Hawks Nest and the Game Lounge. 

Nicknamed in honor of the hawks that watch over CSUSM and were visibly present on and around the construction site, the Hawks Nest includes a variety of pay-to-play table games, including billiards, foosball and air hockey. The space also houses the Ticket Center where students and university employees can purchase discounted tickets to amusement parks and local movie theaters. The Hawks Nest will be open for preview hours and free play during the first two weeks of the spring semester, before its official opening on Thursday, Jan. 30.

Hawks Nest Preview HoursPreview Day and Free Play:  Tuesday, Jan. 21 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.Free Play: Wednesday, Jan. 22 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.Free Play: Thursday, Jan. 23 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.Free Play: Friday, Jan. 24, 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

Coming soon, the Game Lounge will feature pay-to-play console gaming, including PS2, PS3 and the new Xbox One.

Connect at the USUStudent life has a new home in the USU. Student Life and Leadership (SLL)Associated Students, Inc. (ASI), the Dean of Students Office, and the Cross-Cultural CenterGender Equity Center and Pride Center are all located on the third floor. Meeting rooms, the Social Justice Training and Resource Center and the Tukwut Leadership Center offer space for students to engage in meaningful dialogue and develop leadership skills.

The New Heart of Campus

“The University Student Union will undoubtedly become the new focal point of campus,” commented Lorena Meza, vice president of Student Affairs. “The transition of student-focused services to the USU – including ASI, Student Life & Leadership, the Cross-Cultural Center, the Gender Equity Center, the Pride Center and the Dean of Students Office – will provide for a new level of collaboration with, and on behalf of, students.”

The concept and ideas behind the USU began nearly seven years ago, as students met with administrators to design a collaborative space that would bring student life together. The $43.9 million project, which broke ground in February 2012, was funded through student fees.

Gearing Up for the Grand Opening

Training will continue over the next few months for the USU’s more than 100 new student employees while final amenities are still being installed. Communication major and USU student employee, Hugo Pinales, encourages people to explore the new space and ask questions either to a building lead or a student worker at the Information Desk.

“Never be afraid to ask questions,” he said. “We’re all learning and becoming familiar with this new space. We want students to feel at home in their new USU.”

CSUSM will celebrate the grand opening of the USU with a week of festivities from April 14-18. A special ribbon-cutting event will take place on April 15, 2014.

For more information, visit the USU website.