Campus Amenities

What Goes into a Great Student Union Space?

By Josh LeSage

After realizing the books that were filling up our library were no longer being checked out, we shifted to a digital library approach and began thinking about how to repurpose that physical space into something more useful.

Factoring in our college-prep approach, we thought a collegiate-like student union would be a great addition to our high school. Not only would it give students a flexible, collaborative place to come study, mingle and spend time, but it would also set the tone for what they can expect on a college campus.

With this in mind, we started looking at how to recreate a college student union—albeit on a smaller scale—for its students.  We worked with our dealer Kay-Twelve, who brought in a design team from MiEN. They made us detailed computer models showing how the interior could be furnished in a very modern, comfortable and inviting way.

Valley Christian Student Union
Photos Courtesy of MiEN

It wasn’t a hard sell. To fund the project, we held a few fundraisers and also received an additional donation from Colorado Christian University, which sponsors some of our other school events. We presented the university with a plan that included the furniture sketches from our furniture partner and showed the university what the student union was going to look like, and they agreed to donate the rest of the money for it.

Valley Christian Student Union

Here are four key elements that came together to help us create a great student union:

  • Multifunctional furniture. All of the furniture is multifunctional and designed to support collaboration or independent study, whichever the individual student prefers at the time. Most of the tables include USB outlets and can also be used for teacher meetings. I’m really impressed with the quality of the furniture. It can be used in the academic space; kids can spread out, study and attend events; and they can also use it for our targeted study halls.
  • Corner coffee shop. The space includes a corner coffee shop nook where students can order a cool drink. Instead of giving an outside coffee shop $5 for a coffee with ice in it, they can get one from us and help raise money for their own school and for charities. We’re going to select 10 different charities to donate 20% of the coffee shop’s proceeds to every month.
  • School spirit shop. Through the generosity of one specific donor, we’re adding a spirit shop where students can purchase merchandise adorned with the Valley Christian logo. Walking into the space, students see the furniture situated throughout, the coffee shop on their left and the spirit shop on their right—similar to the way a college student union would be set up. The walls are glass, so even if there isn’t anyone manning the shop at the time, students will be able to select items using a QR code, grab a cold drink and just kind of hang out with the furniture.
  • Multipurpose options. The student union isn’t just for academics. We're also going to use this space for pre-football game tailgate gatherings, because who wants to tailgate outside in Arizona in August and September? Our home football games start at 7:00 p.m., so we’ll open it up at 5:00 p.m., bring in food and have videos of the previous games on to get everyone motivated for the upcoming game.

Valley Christian Student Union

With our new student union, we now have a powerful tool to help us prep kids for life after high school and for success in college. This is a space that gets kids out of the traditional classroom setup and into a place where they can work together on projects, attend a class in a different setting or just relax and unwind. As we go forward, we’ll be coming up with even more ideas for using the space for both academic and non-academic purposes.

Josh LeSage is the Principal at Valley Christian School in Chandler, Ariz.