A Legacy of Leadership: 2000s

Tyler Boden and Dan Cornthwaite celebrate student union fee passing

by Leonardo Castaneda

With the turn of the century, San Diego State began to outgrow itself.

By the mid-2000s, it was clear to students that Aztec Center, a long-time campus icon and the first student union in the California State University system, was too small and to old too meet student needs. The problem was clear, but the solution would take the hard work and dedication of Associated Students leaders for the duration of four years to turn into reality.

The first step came in 2006, with the leadership of A.S. President Chris Manigault. In March of that year, SDSU students approved the Modern Space referendum. The new fee would go toward the construction of a new student union to replace Aztec Center. However, the center had been on campus so long, it was almost impossible to gauge the true scale of the proposed plan.

Former A.S. President Grant Mack said in a special KPBS interview that as they learned more about the true cost of the new building during the presidency of James Poet, they realized the approved fee wouldn’t be enough to create the building students wanted. So, they went back to the drawing board.

In 2010, A.S. President Tyler Boden presented students with a new fee proposal, one to build a dream student union to the highest sustainability standards in the country. That March, 4,045 students voted in the referendum, approving the new fee with 54.4 percent of students voting in favor. The vote was historic. Previous votes that would transform the campus had taken more than one attempt—the referendum to build the Aztec Recreation Center and Viejas Arena had been rejected by voters the first three times. But this time, students supported the need for a new student union not just on the first try, but on the first try, twice.

With funding approved, A.S. began the process of designing and constructing a student union that would be able to meet the diverse and growing needs of the SDSU campus. The first step was to ensure the new structure would meet Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design’s highest sustainability rating: “platinum.”

Passing the two fees in order to build what is now the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union happened in 2006 and 2010, but they built on the work of generations that came before. Facilities such as the first Aztec Center and the Student Activity Center laid down the foundation of creating new structures on campus with student-approved fees. They built on the legacy of A.S. President Norman Brinker and the first mandatory fee passed, as well as A.S. President Larry Emond and the fee-funded SAC.

On June 1, 2011, A.S. President Cody Barbo, A.S. Associate Executive Director Christina Brown and SDSU President Stephen L. Weber broke ground for the new student union.

“This is an investment that (the students) will make,” President Stephen L. Weber said at the time. “The students are stepping up to make this a better world for future students. That’s what society is supposed to be.”

Photo from The Daily Aztec archives