Memorial Union mural restoration

Art conservator Jill Eide works to restore a mural in the Old Madison room of the Memorial Union. Most of the Union's second, third and fourth floors will reopen on Friday.

Five years, two shortened Terrace seasons and over $100 million later, crews are putting the final touches on the renovation project that has reshaped UW-Madison’s Memorial Union.

The upper floors of the Union’s center core and east wing — which contain its Great Hall ballroom, Tripp Commons, meeting spaces, offices and six hotel rooms — are set to reopen Friday.

Work will continue in some of the rooms through the academic year, Union officials say, such as in the Old Madison room where painters are restoring a 1920s mural of city and campus life. Scaffolding will also stay on the Union’s exterior as crews look to wrap up work on the roof and gutters by winter.

But the reopening of the second, third and fourth floors means the building is in the finishing stages of the project that began in 2012.

The Memorial Union Reinvestment, as the project is known, renovated the Union Theater, Hoofers facilities and other spaces in the building’s west wing during its $50.6 million first phase, which ended in 2014.

The second phase, which cost $55.2 million, involved redesigning the Memorial Union Terrace, adding new restaurants and renovating study spaces on the first floor and upgrading the upper floors, which are popular locations for weddings and other large events.

The upstairs spaces now boast new heating and air conditioning, sprinkler systems and audio and visual equipment.

The changes are meant to bring the 89-year-old building up to modern standards, Wisconsin Union Director Mark Guthier said.

As people return to the historic halls, though, Guthier said many of them should look much like they did before the renovation.

“People should feel like it’s very familiar and that we haven’t changed it substantially,” Guthier said. “It better feel just the same, because that was the goal.”

Guthier said the renovation included historically faithful upgrades to paint and plaster in the Great Hall, and new chandeliers that matched the original sconces in Tripp Commons. In several meeting rooms, workers stripped out carpeting to uncover original hardwood floors.

Union officials say the renovation is the first comprehensive restoration in the building’s history. It was funded through student segregated fees, donations and the money the Union generates; taxpayer funds were not used.

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Nico Savidge is the higher education reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.