Coffman wish list: Naps, food and beer

An ambitious renovation of Coffman Memorial Union is scheduled to begin in 1998, with the hope that a remodeling can transform our underused union into a hub of student activity. Currently, 10,000 people use the union each day, and administrators would like to double that number. But to that end, Coffman Memorial Union needs to be a welcoming building that offers multiple options for studying, eating and entertainment.
Coffman was last remodeled in 1974, and it shows. The molded plastic monopode chairs in the CNN lounge are unfortunate relics of that era, and the furniture for the new Portage Market looks like it was abducted from a Country Kitchen. Students might hang out more if they had a comfortable, attractive place to sit. And attractive doesn’t mean something that looks like a corporate waiting room.
The administration is galled by the sight of dozing students, but hey, we want to nap. Is it an accident that the couches on the first floor are too short to stretch out on? On any visit to Coffman, you’ll spot many pairs of Timberlands dangling uncomfortably over the edges of those vinyl couches, while their owners, covering their faces with parkas, try to block out the light for a snooze. Why not give us a lounge that’s suitable for napping, equipped with soft couches and tucked away from harsh sunlight and noisy traffic? That way, students could sleep in peace, and administrators wouldn’t have to see them on display in the front window.
Many students just drop by the union to use the bathroom, the cash machine and to grab a cup of coffee, and those things should be conveniently located. But Coffman should also be a place to hang out, meet friends or study in between classes. Unfortunately, it’s laid out more like a thoroughfare. The first floor hallway seems designed to shunt visitors in and out. Inviting, well-lit study spaces would encourage people to use the space, not just pass through it. There is talk of installing Ethernet jacks (in anticipation, presumably, of the day when we’ll all be required to tote laptops), but students could also use a fully stocked computer lab, open 24 hours.
And for study breaks, the union should provide a convenient spot for a snack. The cafeteria and food services are now open only at certain times. This restriction encourages students to go elsewhere, since they know that much of the time, the only refreshment at Coffman comes from a vending machine. It would also be nice to be able to grab a cup of coffee without having to run the unappetizing gauntlet of aborted fetus posters and photos of skinned animals that flank the downstairs corridor. Student activism has its place, but that place is not a lunchroom.
The biggest debate about the renovation will likely be over whether to sell alcohol in Coffman, as Madison does in its student union. A pub would be a fun place to gather and might help to promote some of the campus-life camaraderie the administration wants to see. There are other opportunities for entertainment, including movies. Why not work with U Film Society to show some films in the Coffman Theater, which might be more convenient than Nicholson Hall — especially if you can grab a beer afterward. The renovation is welcome, but for it to be a success, planners must pay heed to what students really want.