A new era at the University of North Texas at Dallas kicked off Monday with the most anticipated grand-opening event in the young history of the institution: the 131,000-square-foot Student Center.
Appropriately held on the first day of classes so many of UNT Dallas' record student body of more than 4,100 students could attend, the buzz on campus was, well, just how much this now looks and feels like a traditional college campus.
Freshly paved walkways parallel to the Student Center were lined on one side with benches at the edge of a new sloping lawn that runs all the way up to DAL 1, and tables and chairs were tucked into quaint spaces that hug the new building. In front of the Student Center's main entrance, a large UNT Dallas seal is engraved into the pavement. With music pumping and food stations serving barbecue sandwiches, veggie shish-kabob, hot dogs and more, the post-party saw students, administrators, faculty and staff mingling and enjoying the celebratory atmosphere.
Before the party started, students lined up inside the Student Center to pick up a "Welcome Week" shirt before making their way into the elegant, 5,400-square-foot Campus Hall for the grand-opening ceremony. Speakers included President Bob Mong, UNT Dallas visionary Texas State Sen. Royce West, State Rep. Carl Sherman Jr., and former state legislator Helen Giddings, whose work with Sen. West was instrumental in the creation of the university.
"This Student Center will be the absolute heart of this university, a place for students to study, to debate, to connect, to plan, to dream, to enjoy," Giddings said. "These students deserve the experiences that they will find here, and the experiences that they will create in this building. It will serve them well, it will serve us well."
The Student Center was years in the making. Needed to handle the rapid enrollment growth experienced over the last three-plus years, the $63 million Student Center will serve as the hub of student life. A large library and a sky-top reading room with a magnificent southern view from four floors up are instant highlights. So, too, is the living room complete with couches and a cozy fireplace.
President Mong called it the students' house.
"Nothing of value can be accomplished alone, we all know that," Mong said. "This Student Center is proof-positive of that. Students, faculty, staff, members of the community, some of them who are here today, and many others played a vital role in conceptualizing and planning this spectacular building. Literally, it started with a blank sheet of paper and an empty computer screen. I started with ideas, ideas that took shape over a two-year span."
Soon, the campus will include almost-complete Hart Amphitheater, which will be followed by a groundbreaking ceremony for the 180-foot Ryan Tower that will be visible for miles in each direction, a beacon to celebrate the transformation of an entire region.
"What I see is communities that will spring up around this university, where we will have all types of housing," Sen. West said. "What I see also is business will locate in proximity to the university, and we’ve got to make certain that the skill sets that they need, that we teach those skill sets here at the university."