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A massive multi-level atrium with student lounges would fill the center of the Nebraska Union under a long-term plan being considered by University of Nebraska-Lincoln officials.

Workshop Architects, hired by UNL to reconfigure the union, presented three plans to faculty, staff and students Wednesday. They range in price from $65 million to $85 million.

This summer, the university will undertake a modest $2 million upgrade at the union while efforts continue toward the more ambitious project. Much more planning and fundraising must occur before work begins on any of the bigger proposals, said Jan van den Kieboom, owner of the Milwaukee-based architectural firm.

"The university really feels the need to make some immediate changes," he said.

This summer's renovations involve knocking down walls inside the union's south entrance to open up a large student study area known as the Crib, and to put a performance stage on its east side.

A red-striped path will lead visitors through the Crib into an area now occupied by a Runza Restaurant and a computer lab, which will be renovated.

Later renovations would place an information desk where a coffee shop and convenience store now sit near the union's north entrance. First-floor meeting rooms in the southeast corner also would be renovated, van den Kieboom said.

Feedback on the plans from students, faculty and staff mostly has favored the most ambitious of the three, and the firm has focused on refinements. Its main feature would be a three-level atrium that would include a first-floor student lounge to the west. The entire center of the atrium would be open, with study areas rimming the upper floors.

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Restaurants occupying the east side would be reconfigured to resemble streetscape, and each café would have its own designated seating, van den Kieboom said. The plan largely would leave the older south and newer north areas but gut the center.

Offices for student organizations and service centers would be placed next to each other. A ballroom on a newly built third floor would overlook the fountain now outside the north entrance.

"It'll change," van den Kieboom said of the design. "It'll get better through the process."

He didn't offer a timeline for the ambitious renovation, which would become part of the university's master plan if approved.

Clark Schulte, who works in university operations, said he likes the proposed plans for new flooring and for the atrium.

"It's something that's much needed," he said.

Bode Alabi, a graduate student studying community and regional planning, likes the plans for both immediate and long-term renovations, including the atrium.

"It's always interesting to see what they're going to do 10 years from now when you won't be here to enjoy it," he said.

Reach Kevin Abourezk at 402-473-7225 or kabourezk@journalstar.com.

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I'm a Journal Star night editor and father of five.

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