For Marty Martinez, project coordinator at the University of Wyoming Veterans Center, a lack of space in the program’s current location in Knight Hall manifested this year in one of the most difficult situations he’s faced as coordinator.
“I’ve never been as embarrassed as when a veteran showed up in a wheelchair this summer and I couldn’t even get him into and through my center — that does not work,” Martinez said.
More than 700 student veterans attend classes at UW, and there is a possibility the Veterans Center could be moved to space in the Wyoming Union that would better accommodate veterans, but the sheer numbers of a nationally-ranked, growing program. A problem lies with the fact that space is already being used by another entity on campus.
Student media, in conjunction with the Associated Students of the University of Wyoming, hosted a forum Thursday addressing possible changes to the student union.
Student Media currently occupies almost the third floor of the Wyoming Union. But with limited options on campus for a student Veterans Center, it is possible the Veterans Center and Student Media could have to share the space. UW Branding Iron News Editor Thomas Garvie said the third floor offices are already maxed out and any reductions in space would mean reductions in programming.
“In the plan, our space is reduced about to one-third, and Veterans Services take the other two-thirds,” Garvie said. “If you take anything from the space we have, that we fully utilize, we would definitely have to cut programs — whether that’s online or the print, something would have to be cut.”
A Union Visioning Study is calling for several changes in the Wyoming Union to address the growing needs of students on campus while dealing with ongoing budgetary challenges.
The Wyoming Union regularly goes through changes roughly every 15-20 years, and with 14 years since its last renovation, university leaders decided it was time to start planning for future growth — a challenge that ran into the current fiscal crisis resulting from deficits in state revenues.
“We should be planning for what’s going to happen — even if it’s not going to be for the next 5, 10, 15 years before we get this — we need to have a plan moving forward, so we can meet the needs of all our students currently on campus and the ones in the future,” said Chris Maki, UW’s space manager. “With this study, we started to see the dollar signs going up very fast, so we looked at short-term, low-cost options, and also had a peek at what long-term options were.”
Martinez said the Wyoming Union was not the first choice for a new Veterans Center location. The third floor of the Wyoming Union includes several factors not ideal for some of the challenges faced by student veterans, he said. However, when he learned there would be a chance to utilize the third floor of the Wyoming Union, allowing the program to accommodate growing numbers and large group meetings — something the current 650-square-foot space does not — Martinez said it made sense to move forward.
“We looked and said, ‘This is an opportunity to create a flagship center,’” Martinez said. “To take the University of Wyoming, put it on the map, and create something that was incredible that no one else around our state has, and that is a center of this magnitude for our veteran students.”
Donors pledged money for the move and necessary renovations, but if the Veterans Center cannot move into the space, it runs the risk of having those pledges withdrawn, Martinez said.
Garvie said his problem with the move isn’t with the Veterans Center — Martinez also said he considers Student Media a friend of his program — but with the university administration’s handling of the proposed changes. Garvie said he thinks Student Media is being told its students shouldn’t worry about the proposal to move the Veterans Center into the third floor of the Union, while the Veterans Center is being told to move forward with its plans to continue fundraising.
“There’s a lack of transparency with the administration we’ve experienced,” Garvie said. “Not only have we not been included in process of deciding the most efficient way to use all of this space, but at certain junctures, we’ve been told something different than veteran affairs was told. We were told everything was on hold and nothing is set in stone, we then found out the message being given to (the Veterans Center) was quite the opposite.”
During meetings with stakeholders and architectural consultants, Garvie said Vice President for Student Affairs, stated her assumption that Student Media could manage its program with less space.
Axelson said she did state the assumption another department could be accommodated on the third floor during a meeting, and an architectural consultant’s evaluation confirmed the space could be shared. Even with the recommendation, she said no final decision has been made.
“Now we’re vetting the plan, and nothing is set in stone,” she said. “We have partial funding for a Veterans Center — it’s not complete — but there is some funding. With donors, we need to have something for them to look at.”
Both Student Media and the Veterans Center have special considerations that limit the options for where to move the programs. Student Media, for example, needs after-hours access and the Veterans Center needs conditions to accommodate conditions such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Martinez said The Veterans Center operations are all supported by private donors. All other departments and units on campus, however, are dealing with significant budget cuts.
Garvie said he knows entities across campus are doing more with less, and thinks his department could do the same. But without knowing how or when changes are coming, he said the department is in limbo.
“We can’t figure out a way to generate revenue to find a new space because we feel like we’ve been left in the dark,” he said.
Dealing with a $41 million reduction in state block grant funding and other complicated factors held up a vetting process for a phased-in process of union visioning, Axelson said. Thursday’s forum should be considered the start of that process, she said.
“We were so consumed with other efforts, we didn’t start the vetting process for union visioning as soon as we should have,” she said. “This starts the true vetting.”
Eric Webb, director of Residence Life and Dining Services, said there would be sessions scheduled in the future with departments and stakeholders on union visioning.
Some changes to the bottom level, ground floor and second floor would include removing an underutilized computer lab, providing an office area to Fraternity and Sorority Life and moving the Rolling Mills café.