Distinctive art is only part of the attraction of the remodeled University Union, one of Sac State's main gatghering places for the University community. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

The centerpiece of the “new” University Union is a painting of a fierce-looking insect exoskeleton.

Hornet in Flight – Raphael Delgado’s original acrylic-on-canvas artwork – pays homage to Sacramento State’s mascot and school colors, and it is being noticed. Students and others passing through the Union often slow to take it in.

“Raphael’s work is so distinctive, and the hornet really lends itself to geometric shapes,” says studio manager Rebecca Voorhees, who commissioned the 4-by-7-foot painting for the wall behind the information desk. The painting is a part of the University Union’s permanent art collection.

Delgado made his mark on campus as lead artist and project manager for the Sacramento Mural at Sac State, the enormous “postcard” painted on the north wall of Shasta Hall. It was the city’s signature mural for the 2018 Wide Open Walls festival. Delgado also has had two solo art exhibitions in the University Union Gallery.

He watched recently as a crew installed Hornet in Flight along one of the building’s busiest corridors.

“I really like how the colors seem to glow,” he said.

The dynamic hornet painting seems to echo the renewed energy of University Union.

Students have returned to their campus “living room” following the $53 million remodeling that added a three-story, 71,000-square-foot wing to the building’s north side. Parts of the Union were closed to students during the two-year construction.

“The Union suffered from an overall lack of space, primarily for open seating and places for people to just ‘hang out,’ ” says Bill Olmsted, interim executive director of Union WELL Inc. “At any given time, you would see students sitting on the floor in hallways and alcoves, trying to eat lunch or type a paper while sitting in a stairwell.

“For several years, those have been the blatant signs of our space limitations. The expansion now allows more students to spend time comfortably in the building.”

The project was financed by student fees, which were approved in a campus-wide alternative-consultation process, along with reserves from Union WELL Inc., and generated revenue. No state funds were used.

Students are swarming to the Games Room, which debuted just before spring 2019 finals, to shoot pool, and play foosball, ping pong, and video games. The last piece of that project is the virtual-reality room, which is in development and temporarily houses a Nintendo Switch system.

Students now have two new student lounges outfitted with lots of fun, funky furniture chosen with them in mind. Electrical outlets can be found seemingly everywhere in the building. Some students still prefer to sit on the floor, as long as they can plug in nearby.

The new Starbuck’s coffee shop is cozy, clubby and almost always crowded. Students have access to the space even when the retail counter is closed. Peak Adventures has relocated its outdoorsy vibe and bike shop from The WELL. It’s the destination for information about group adventure trips and equipment rental.

In what’s believed to be the first partnership of its kind in the California State University (CSU), Sac State’s basic needs services – the CARES (Crisis Assistance & Resource Education Support) Office and the Associated Students Inc. (ASI) Food Pantry – have joined forces in the Union’s expansion.

Students have a dedicated “front door” to basic needs services on the north side of the Union, apart from the general hustle and bustle. The idea is to make students feel more comfortable about asking for help with emergency housing, personal crises, or to shop at the new, larger Food Pantry.

Previously, the ASI Food Pantry was in a converted closet at Yosemite Hall, and the office of campus case manager and crisis advocate Danielle Muñoz was tucked away on Lassen Hall’s third floor.

“Students will feel welcome here, that they belong, and they won’t have to bounce around campus anymore,” Muñoz says. “The ASI-CARES partnership is centered on serving students and shows that the whole campus cares about them.”

The 71,000-square-foot addition was built to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold standards. The existing building was updated with new HVAC, fire alarm and lighting-control systems.

Care was taken to blend the new spaces into the old, giving the entire University Union a feeling of continuity. The building is bright, with huge exterior windows allowing daylight to flood the stairwells and meeting rooms.

The University Union opened in 1976, when the student enrollment was 20,417. Additional expansions to the building were completed in 1990, 1992, 1998, and 2005, as the student population continued to grow. Today, more than 31,000 students attend Sac State, and many make their way to the Union nearly every day. – Dixie Reid