Arizona State University East opened in southeast Mesa seven years ago and now serves 3,500 students, but it's never held a groundbreaking ceremony before today.
ASU President Michael Crow and ASU East Provost Charles Backus will lead the 10 a.m. ceremony centered on a fenced-off parking lot across the street from the campus academic center.
By next fall, the lot should be a $5.4 million, 27,000-square-foot student union, replacing the current one housed in a former Williams Air Force Base officers' club.
Most of the money budgeted for the new student center comes from the voter-approved state sales tax increase for education.
The campus, at 7001 E. Williamsfield Road, just off Power Road, has been refurbishing the blocky brown buildings left behind when the base shut down a decade ago. No structures have been added aside from a storage building used by the main ASU campus' library. "We don't count that one," Backus said.
The front end of the new student union will feature an angular iron framework bearing colorful banners.
Inside, it will have larger versions of the ballroom, TV lounge and game room currently in the older union. The campus bookstore will relocate there. The buffet-style meals served in the old base mess hall — which Backus describes as "marginally meeting code, and things are always breaking down," — will be replaced by a student union food court.
"It will help our image as we we try to change the appearance to look more like a college campus and less like an Air Force base," Backus said.
The new student union's ballroom will seat up to 900, as opposed to the 250 that can squeeze into the current student union's largest space. This means ASU East will no longer have to get special permission from the fire marshal once a year to open a base movie theater for a conference, and other large groups won't have to be broken up.
The current student union is about two blocks east of the academic center and somewhat off the campus' beaten path.
"Since I found out it was here, I've used it a lot to study," said Paul Bates, a junior majoring in business administration.