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By Rahwa Hailemariam  The Ethnic Student Center renovation project is heading toward its final planning stage, and some ESC members said they couldn’t be more excited. The plan is to convert the top level of the Western Associated Students Bookstore into the center, and create a bridge that will connect it to the Viking Union. The bridge will connect to a seventh floor, which will be added over the Multi-Purpose Room. The project is set to be completed by 2019. Eric Alexander, associate dean for student engagement, said the ESC Student Executive Committee and the Executive Committee meet with the architects about once a month to do the planning and make sure student demands are being met. They recently completed the schematic design phase, an initial design scheme defining the general design of the project, and are moving into the design development phase, Alexander said. “Design development is materializing that design, and so we're at that stage of finishing up the rough idea of how the space is going to look,” Alexander said. He said they have been hitting each specific mark for the planning, and are moving in the right direction. “They [the architects] are really good about keeping us on schedule,” Alexander said. “They will go into the design development phase through the end of July.” The current space is too small, and it is hard to bring in a lot of people together at the same time,  Lafayette Baker, the program director for the Ethnic Student Center, said. The new center could offer space for multiple groups to meet at once. The request for a new Ethnic Student Center came from students saying there was inadequate space and resources for students of color on campus. The conversation for the project has been going on for about three years, until last year, when ESC students demanded they get the space they need. Abby Ramos, part of the Student Executive and Steering Committee, said student demands are being met. She met directly with both students and administration to lead the conversation for the project as the AS vice president of diversity in 2016.   The referendum to add a $30 additional fee to student tuition passed with 1162 votes for the fee and 692 against in May 2016. The Board of Trustees approved it in June. “We have done a really good job of getting different student voices, and it’s a group of students who are completely deciding the way everything is going to be laid out,” Ramos said. “That is the part I’m most happy about, because it’s so student-oriented.” She said it’s special because most of the people on the committee won’t be attending Western by the time the project is done, but they are doing the work for future students. Alexander and Baker said the goal is to make sure the space is multifunctional, making sure students can do different things in the space at the same time and provide students with resources to do things they haven’t been able to do before. The committees have gone on to a couple of schools in Seattle and Oregon to see how their cultural centers and resources are put together, Alexander said. He said they wanted to see what ideas Western could take from them for Western’s Ethnic Student Center. “There is a large social space potentially for students to just relax, maybe watch TV and do some homework and bond,”  Baker said. “Another thing I've heard consistently from the students is that it will allow students to come together.” Baker said. The construction is set to begin late January of 2018, Alexander said.

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