- Introduced: 1935
- Original Cost: $400,000
- Opened: May 4, 1938
The fact that the University of Nebraska finally got a student union is really the work of one student leader, Jack Fischer. Fischer became president of the student council in the spring of 1935 and took on getting a student union building as his project. He organized a Committee of One Hundred, which endorsed the need for a student center and the necessity of applying for federal assistance. Since PWA (Public Works Administration) money would pay only 45 percent of the estimated $400,000 cost, the students agreed to tax themselves through student fees to pay off the bonds issued for the remaining 55 percent.
Jack Fischer and the students had no support from the Chancellor and his cabinet and some Regents were irrationally hostile to accepting any federal money. Still, confronted by an organized student proposal, they could not reject it out of hand; and when the students went home in June, 1935, the application for federal money seemed ensured and the student union a sure thing. However, when they returned to campus in September they discovered the administration and the Board of Regents had not made an application for federal funding and by then nearly all PWA money had been allocated to other projects. Fischer, who had then become the editor of the Daily Nebraskan, reopened his campaign and wrote in the student newspaper, “We feel that utter disregard of our work is unjustified and that the university and the student body have both suffered as a result”. Other student leaders joined Fischer to revive the issue of building a student union. The students began collecting pledges to support the new building and by January, 1936, they had more than $10,000 promised. The Alumni Association also established a fundraising committee to raise money for furnishings.
In January, 1936, the Board of Regents finally approved the application for PWA funds, and in November they voted to accept a PWA contract which paid $180,000 toward the new union and provided bonds for the remaining $220,000 of the $400,000 total cost of the project. The Alumni Association eventually raised enough funds to provide $75,000 to furnish the new building. Both the Daily Nebraskan and the Alumni Association were granted office space in the new student union when it opened on May 4, 1938.
In the early 1950s, Chancellor Clifford Hardin decided that because the Union was being used at near capacity, a building addition would be necessary to meet the needs of current students and prepare for an expected increase in the student population. Funding for an expansion project was drastically reduced and by January 1958, bids for the new facility were at $1.25 million. The project was completed in July 1959 and a dedication ceremony was held in the fall of 1959. During the renovation, the student union was renamed. The named changed to “Nebraska Union” because the facilities were now considered facilities for all elements of the campus population: students, faculty, staff, and alumni.
The 1959 addition only met the needs of the increasing student population for a few years. In 1963, G. Robert Ross, Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, determined an immediate need for another addition to the Nebraska Union. Construction for the new facility began in 1968 with completion and dedication ceremonies held in 1969. The memorial plaza was added in 1969 and the Broyhill Fountain was dedicated in 1970.
Planning for another renovation began in January 1994. In March 1995, the Nebraska Union was placed on the ASUN election ballot and was approved. The Broyhill Fountain was shutdown in October 1996 and temporary entrances were built in November 1996. Actual renovation of the building began in January 1997. In April 1999, the Nebraska Union reopened after undergoing renovations. The addition added 55,000 square feet and cost $13.5 million. It increased usable space by 25 percent. New features included a 24-hour computer lab, more lounge space, new meeting rooms and offices and a state-of-the-art auditorium. The building is a barrier-free environment and has been approved by the ADA.