Work has begun on a two-year, $86-million project to remodel the Compton Union Building. The plan is to modernize the 1951 building, carving out 53,000 square feet for stores and restaurants, installing a new state-of-the-art auditorium, and introducing more light and style.

The price tag, 60 percent of which will be covered by a student assessment of $120 a semester, is the highest in Washington State University history. That’s because at six stories and 235,000 square feet, the CUB is one of WSU’s largest buildings, says Travis Duncan ’05, the CUB project coordinator. The renovation involves gutting the entire building and the costly endeavor of refitting everything, including windows, wiring, plumbing, and mechanical elements, he says.

The structure, which now seems like a cave in some places and a maze in others, will be as big and as open as possible, says architect Stephanie Kingsnorth of Pfeiffer Partners, the Los Angeles-based firm that, along with Integrus Architecture of Spokane, is planning and running the renovation of the 55-year-old structure.

The plan is not to overwhelm the vintage building with a new architectural statement, but to update it, enhance the entries so the CUB is welcoming on all four sides, and make it more environmentally friendly, say the designers. “We’re doing it right this time,” says Duncan.

The bulk of the retail space will go to the Student Book Corporation (Bookie), which is in its second year of a 10-year management contract with Barnes and Noble College. The store is destined for the northwest corner of the building and will occupy two floors. The Bookie’s rent, along with money from other new retail entities, will defray the costs of the building for the students, says Isaac Wells, president of the Associated Students of Washington State University.

The project is scheduled to start May 15, 2006 and should be ready for a grand opening before the start of fall semester in August 2008.

It will be a hardship to have the CUB closed for two years, say the planners, who spent spring semester relocating 35 student programs and organizations to other parts of campus. But in the end, WSU will have a student union that will last the next half-century, they say.