It is said that patience is a virtue. For a community that waited three years while the Stony Brook Union was being remodeled, and another year while the COVID-19 pandemic prevented large gatherings, that patience was finally rewarded — and by all accounts, it was worth the wait.
On August 26, one year after its completion, the Stony Brook Union’s doors officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and celebration. The Seawolves Marching Band kicked off the ceremony and Dean of Students Ric McClendon welcomed those in attendance, citing the importance of the Union as a centerpiece of a diverse campus.
“The union is more than just a building,” he said. “It’s been a center of the Stony Brook community for 50 years, and it’s a place where everyone is welcome.” McClendon then introduced Stony Brook President Maurie McInnis, who spoke openly about the Union and its importance to the Stony Brook community.
“When it opened in 1970, the Union symbolized the rapid growth of our institution and its meteoric rise in both reputation and ability to serve a dynamic and diverse range of students,” McInnis said. “In times of tumult and tension during the pandemic year, I watched our campus join together to reach a point of understanding, empathy, and constructive dialogue. I watched individuals challenge their own notions of learning and tradition in order to work toward a greater good. The new Stony Brook Union is a cornerstone in this effort.”
The original Stony Brook Union, which opened in January 1970, was described at its inception as a facility “designed to meet the cultural, recreational and social needs of students,” and would take over social functions previously served by Pritchard Gym. It became the first campus building designated specifically for student life.
“Starting in 1970 and continuing to the mid-90s, the SB Union functioned as the ‘living room’ of the campus, providing recreation, dining, meeting rooms and gathering spaces for student organizations and others,” said Norm Prusslin, director of the media arts minor and faculty advisor to student media at Stony Brook. “There’s a lot of history here. People like [Rock and Roll Hall of Famers] Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen performed here early in their careers.”
The 170,000-square-foot, three-level building was originally slated for maintenance and an extensive refurbishing in 2015, but the project expanded to a complete remodeling. The building’s interior was designed to create unique spaces to accommodate the requirements of dozens of campus and faculty groups, while the exterior was reimagined to deliver a look and feel that melds university tradition with contemporary architecture.
The result is a modern, multi-use destination in the heart of the campus designed to accommodate more than 40 different student and faculty groups.
The comprehensive renovation reinforces its function as a site of centralized services, programs and initiatives, providing a holistic campus experience. The facility was designed specifically to meet current students’ needs, and houses student services offices as well as student life resources and programs, including space for clubs.
“This space will encourage new clubs and enable existing clubs to be better,” said Helena Van Nieuwenhuizen, a PhD student in the Department of Physics and Astronomy and speaker of the Graduate Student Organization Senate. “I’ve already seen the sense of community it brings. Its first role was as a COVID vaccine center, and earlier this year I stood with faculty, staff and community members to get the vaccine.“
Undergraduate Student Government president Manjot Singh, ’23, a civil engineering major, echoed those sentiments.
“After waiting a long three years it was all worth it,” said Singh. “The Student Union is a place where students feel a sense of connection. This is the place on campus where students will be exposed to the immense cultural, social and professional experiences that Stony Brook has to offer. I’m sure that many stories of students meeting their college best friend or getting involved in a club they love or experiencing new diversity will stem from the Student Union.”
“I’m a junior and the Union has been under construction the whole time I’ve been at Stony Brook,” said Heather Waszmer, ’23, a civil engineering major. “This is the first time I’ve gotten to experience it. It’s a logical space to house the clubs and it’s great having the tutoring center and lounges here.”
The Stony Brook Union will also house the UNITI Cultural Center (UCC), a longstanding campus facility and program that promotes cultural diversity and inclusion on campus. Scheduled to open on October 23, during Stony Brook’s Homecoming festivities, the UCC offers students opportunities to learn about Stony Brook’s diverse campus community, building upon the University’s strong commitment to diversity, inclusion and equity. Funding for the new UCC construction was made possible by a New York State grant initiated by Stony Brook alumnus Carl E. Heastie ‘90, current speaker of the New York State Assembly.
- Modernist/neoclassic-style exterior; brick, stone, metal and glass finishes
- Open interior with high ceilings and a grand staircase to the second floor
- 3,500 square feet of private and collaborative spaces
- Three levels of meeting rooms, conference rooms or classrooms dedicated to student services and student-centric spaces
- Main lobby supports studying and collaborative learning through comfortable seating, powered stations and a DoIT help desk
- 4,000-square-foot ballroom
- 100-seat auditorium with a fixed podium for presenters and plush audience seats, each with a convenience outlet and tablet arm
- Plug-and-play media stations and wireless streaming on every level
— Robert Emproto