The front porch of Kirby Student Center is about a foot off the ground, increasing visibility and views of Lake Superior.
Not long after she started working at UMD, Kirby Director Jeni Eltink was following a family on a campus tour. The grandma, son, and high school-aged grandson were walking into Kirby when Jeni overheard the grandma turn to her son and exclaim, "Look at the student center-- it's exactly like it was when you were a student here!"
To Jeni, the observation cast Kirby outside the warm glow of nostalgia into the harsh light of outdated. Something had to be done.
Soon after, about three years ago, the design for a two-phased Kirby Student Center renovation started to emerge.
The lounge was completed in 2013 and expanded the space from 3,800 square feet to more than 6,300-- a 2,500 square foot increase.
Its unveiling also revealed a space that's better equipped to serve today's students' needs-- things like tall tables for charging laptops and phones, booths for group projects, and lights with sensors that power down for sustainability.
Nick Dalton works in the new Student Association office. The biochemistry major was so moved by his experience at UMD that he's pursuing a master's in student affairs after graduation.
Across the hall, the office space known as "Phase 1B" waited in the wings. The challenge with this leg of the renovation was increasing space for students within the constraints of the original Kirby footprint.
Construction started last January and was completed in August. "The thing I'm most proud of is that we were able to create 1,800 square feet that's accessible to any student, whereas the old space had zero," says Jeni.
This section houses offices for Student Association, Greek Life, the Statesman, and Kirby Program Board.
Nathan Ernst, president of the Student Association, was involved with the design and is especially appreciative of the vantage point and visibility of his new office, "I feel like we have a lot more opportunities to connect with students. It's such a welcome and open space.” He calls it a ‘living room’ and that’s by design.
The new Garage in Kirby Student Center doubles as a performance space when the door is open.
The underlying view of Kirby being a “home for students” guided new spaces that complements this perception. “The Garage, the Porch, and the Studio are spaces that are reserved for students and just students to use,” explains Associate Director Joie Acheson Lee.
The Garage is completely unique. It's about a foot higher than the hallway outside, has a transparent garage door that opens and closes depending on what it's being used for, and doubles as a performance space. Explains Jeni, "We want something that reflects UMD. This is a campus like no other campus. We want something that nobody else has."
The lounge area of the Student Center reopened in 2013 with more amenities for today's students.
Kirby's 60-year history maps movements in the student experience. Within the space, walls and ramps were added and removed, a once quiet space was infused with music, and a view of Lake Superior, once hidden, became the focal point.
Joie sums the transformation up with one word: fun. She remembers pre-renovation UMD visitors asking, "Where's the student center?" because it was disguised as a hallway. "Before it was boxed up. Now the light from the lake is in all the spaces, we have music, and I can see impromptu programs happening here."
Jeni calls this 'sticky space,' designed for students to stop and connect rather than pass through. "The idea of opening up the Garage and the Porch is so that people can see what's going on and say, 'Yeah. I want to be a part of that.'"
UMD in the 1960s, not long after Kirby Student Center opened.
Besides being the epicenter of student activities, Kirby's almost exactly in the center of campus.
Stephen Kirby donated $400,000 towards a student center not long after the migration from the lower campus to UMD's upper campus began. Ground was broken in 1954 and the project was completed in 1956.
Since that time, the first floor has undergone three major renovations: 1979, 1984, and today.
During Kirby's nearly 60 years, there have only been four directors.
Story by Lori C. Melton, October 2015
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