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History of the Natali Student Center at Cal UHistory of the Natali Student Center at Cal U


History of the Natali Student Center (formerly California Memorial Union)Elmo Natali

Circa 1968, the Student Activities Association (SAI) expanded to encompass all student organizations and activities for all college clubs and campus programs; the campus radio station, WVCS; the California Times newspaper; and special events. These increased functions and responsibilities brought about a need for a central facility that would be operated by the association. The board of directors, recognizing this need, worked with the college president and board of trustees to make arrangements with the Commonwealth to build a student union on campus. Under the terms of this agreement, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was to erect and to maintain the 42,000-square-foot building.  In return, each student would pay a $10 building fee each semester. The California Memorial Union was dedicated on August 18, l972, and dedicated to those who had contributed to the “intellectual, cultural, social and aesthetic growth of the community.” 

In the early to mid l980s, the University was feeling the effects of a fitness craze that was sweeping the nation. The demand for additional recreation and fitness facilities rose dramatically. The student body approved the use of $500,000 of the SAI capital base to renovate the Herron Gymnasium into a fitness center. The student body further agreed to pay a $15 fitness center fee each semester. This fee would be used to repay the SAI and to cover operating costs of the center.  In l986, the SAI opened the Herron Recreation and Fitness Center. The center featured racquetball courts, weight lifting equipment, Keiser equipment, an aerobic room, a stationary bike room, swimming pool, a basketball court, volleyball court, whirlpool and steam room, men and women’s saunas, along with a professional health and fitness staff. The center also included the Patio Restaurant, which featured a “greenhouse” and outdoor seating. 

From l971 to l988, Auxiliary Services such as food service, laundry service, vending machines, pay telephone; Channel 29; the Fayette County Head Start Program; and computer sales, became the responsibility of the SAI. Increased emphasis on Greek life, commuter services and off-campus housing also contributed to the association’s rapid growth.

These increased functions and responsibilities along with a steady increase in enrollment brought about a need for additional space in the California Memorial Union. The vice president for Student Development and Services, recognizing this need, established a planning committee to study the feasibility of expanding the student union. The results of the feasibility study confirmed the need for additional space in the student union. 

In l989, the student body approved to proceed with an $8,000,000 student union addition. The plan was also approved by the SAI Board of Directors, Student Congress, the Board of Trustees, Commuter Council, the Graduate Student Association, the Inter-Residence Hall Council and other student groups. Under the terms of this agreement, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was to erect the 42,000-square-foot addition. In return, each student was to pay an additional $65 building fee each semester. Grand opening was Fall of l992. The award-winning Elmo Natali Student Center, renamed in the honor of former vice president for Student Development and Services, offered the Cal U Student Bookstore, the Washington Food Court, the Vulcan Movie Theatre, meeting and recreational spaces.

In 2000 a Master Plan for Dining Services was completed. The recommendation of the plan was to relocate ding operations from Gallagher Hall to the Natali Student Center.

In 2010, a survey conducted with WTW Architects assessed the needs of students, faculty and staff. Our campus community expressed the need for a roomier dining area, more retail food options, and more comfortable areas for students to meet, work and socialize.

Because the Natali Student Center is an “auxiliary” building, tuition funds cannot be used to pay for improvements. So in 2011, students took a vote and agreed by referendum to increase the student center fee to cover the cost of renovations.

Only after an in-depth review of the existing Student Center — including the building’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing deficiencies — was the project approved to proceed. Mindful of the project’s cost, we trimmed $5 million from the original estimate.
“Why go forward? Our decision hinged on the need to repair serious problems with the student center’s aging infrastructure and outmoded design,” said Interim University President Geraldine M. Jones in a message to the campus community. 

“This renovation is a practical, student-centered project, designed to meet critical needs of the population we serve.”

The building is scheduled to remain open while the renovations are made. 

Elmo Natali: Vice President Emeritus California University of Pennsylvania

Elmo Natali began his professional career at California University in 1962 as a professor of education and assistant football coach. During the next 30 years he served the students at Cal U in various positions in the area of student affairs and in 1977 was named vice president for Student Affairs. It was during the final years of his term as vice president that the student center was designed and constructed.

Natali attended then-California State College in the early 1950s and played football for the Vulcans. At one time he held the single-season rushing record for the Vulcans and in 1992, his jersey number, 34, was retired. 

As Emeritus University President John Watkins said at the time of Natali's retirement, "Mr. Natali's complete dedication to this university has made it a better place."