More than 30 years ago, the "Student Union" movement gained impetus and academic support throughout the country. Most resident colleges began to plan or erect facilities to meet and/or enrich the social, cultural and recreational needs of their students.
In the mid-1950's, primarily under the leadership of the dean of the School of General Studies, exploratory steps were taken at Brooklyn College to establish a Student Union building. The students of this commuter college had no lounges or free space to gather, relax or study other than the college cafeteria. A large, active cocurricular program with well-established "club hours" had no suitable facility to hold functions and present programs. An important adjunct to college life was missing.
The Board of Higher Education and the City of New York were not at that time willing or able to allocate the funds to provide a facility that would serve the college as a center for students. After a period of discussion and planning, the proposal to construct a Student Center was presented to the student body who, by a referendum, voted to tax themselves to build the center, which would fill this void. Fortunately, the federal government, through the Federal Housing Administration, had made loan money available to erect Student Union buildings at this time. In order to take advantage of this program, the Brooklyn College Student Services Corporation was created. Its directors included the chairman of the Board of Higher Education, the president and a group of administrators at Brooklyn College. They obtained a construction loan of $1,450,000 for 40 years with a 3.125% annual interest rate. This loan could not be used for furnishings. A faculty-student drive raised the funds to furnish the building.
The original basic plan was to erect a building to provide space and services that were not already provided by the college. A four-story building with public lounges, music, recreation rooms, a study lounge, conference rooms and lounges for club activities (social, intellectual and cultural programs) was opened in fall 1962.
Five years after the center opened, it became apparent that the size of the facility was inadequate. The student body voted to increase its Student Center fee to finance a $2,000,000 addition of two floors and a penthouse. These were the days of "open admission" and a much larger student enrollment. The increased Student Center fee income made it possible to finance the additions from the existing resources as well as create a reserve fund.
In 1974 when the college wanted to improve its athletic sports complex, at the request of the three student governments, the Student Center gave $750,000 to the college for a track and athletic field. This was a generous and useful monetary addition to city property. This is but one of the many contributions the Student Center has made in the last 23 years.
In June 1984, the federal government announced a plan that would allow colleges holding FHA loans to pay them off prematurely at a discount. Although the original 40-year amortization plan spread the debt over many generations of students, the opportunity to eliminate the remaining interest payments and obtain a substantial reduction in the basic indebtedness seemed prudent. By using the accumulated collateral required by the conditions of the federal government loan and by withdrawing our "reserve" funds the debt was satisfied. The government bonds were redeemed and the remaining $802,000 mortgage has been cancelled. The Student Center building valued at over $5,000,000 is now debt free
At a meeting on Jan. 3, 1985, the Brooklyn College Student Services Corporation voted unanimously to transfer title of the building to the college or state with a request that the existing corporate governing board be authorized to continue their functions under the general oversight of the college.
The Student Center experienced a revitalization with upgraded facilities, including a new café and game room, where all profits support students programming and the center. A new Conference Center and African Art Gallery were also added. With these continued improvements, more student clubs are using the building than in past years. In fact, student usage was up 20 percent in spring 2009 compared to spring 2007, and the Student Center set up more than 120,000 chairs for activities and events in the 2008–09 academic year alone.
If you have not been to your Student Center, come by and be part of its legacy.