Center looks like, serves as crossroads

Joe Carlson

The St. Paul campus has traditionally prided itself on its slower-paced, closely knit community. At the St. Paul Student Center, workers and administrators are trying to make the campus student union a focal point for those who live and attend classes there.
“The building tries to be a home for students that we can all be proud of,” Student Center Director Charles Rausch said. “We are the center of the community.”
The student center is the most heavily used building on the St. Paul campus, with more than 5,000 people entering it every year, according to the 1996-97 Student Center Fees Request report.
Seventy-four percent of students on the St. Paul campus visit the student center weekly, the report indicates, compared to the 47 percent who visit Coffman Memorial Union each week on the East Bank campus and the 36 percent who use the West Bank Union.
The St. Paul campus first had a student union in 1934. It was formed as the Farm Union, meeting in a small, unused section of Old Dairy Hall. The current student center was built in 1959 and expanded in 1979, and is now home to several shops and lounges, such as The Outdoor Store and the Terrace Cafe.
It also houses The North Star Ballroom and The Theatre, as well as several conference rooms which can be rented for student and non-University purposes.
The layout of the building was originally inspired by a busy, small-town crossroads, attempting to simulate a “coming together of people,” Rausch said.
When in the student center, “you’re in the middle of a town square,” he said.
Just as the student center is a vital part of many students’ lives, students are a vital part of the St. Paul Student Center.
“They really do try to integrate students into everything,” by allowing them to develop and coordinate programs and organizations, student center employee Ann Robertson said.
One of the ways students are a formal part of the organization is through the St. Paul Student Center Board of Governors, Rausch said.
The Board of Governors is a group of 15 elected students and six faculty who meet once a week to “decide what we ought to do and how to do it,” Rausch said.
“We’re the keepers of the hearth,” Board of Governors Secretary Lisa Schaller, a graduate student, said.
The board will hold 33 meetings during this academic year and decides everything from the price of bowling in the student center’s bowling alley to the allocation of space in the center, Schaller said.
In fact, the use of space inside the student center is “a hard decision, and it’s the kind of decision that the board would make because it affects the community,” Rausch said.
Serving on the board is also a valuable learning opportunity because “it teaches you a lot about leadership skills,” Schaller said.
Another way students are connected to the center is through employment.
Part-time student employees make up 91 percent of the total student center staff and work 67 percent of the total hours, according to the Student Center Fees Request report.
Students are brought into contact with the student center through the center’s physical connection to Bailey Hall.
“It’s very convenient,” St. Paul Student Center Building and Grounds Supervisor Lael Hamilton said.
Rausch said the student center tries to work closely with the resident advisors in Bailey Hall.
The University Community Activities Network allows student volunteers the opportunity to get involved with St. Paul student events such as the Harvest Moon Festival and Homecoming festivities.
Like many University buildings, the St. Paul Student Center is currently in a state of transition, St. Paul Campus Mail Supervisor Tom Moldenhauer said.
“There’s just tons of things changing,” Moldenhauer said.
On October 1, “the campus mail part of this operation is reverting back to Minneapolis,” Moldenhauer said, and services provided by the U.S. Postal Service, such as stamp sales, are “moving over to Union Station where the candy counter is now.”
In addition, much of the layout of the lower level is being reorganized to better accommodate the services which the student center provides, Molderhauer said.
The St. Paul Student Center is an important part of the University experience for many students, but unfortunately, many Minneapolis students do not know it exists, Rausch said. “This seems to be the best-kept secret of the University.”