As students make their way back to the University of Louisiana at Lafayette after the winter break, they’ll find a new Student Union where they can eat, drink and socialize.

After two years of construction, the university’s new hub for student activity is set to open with the start of the spring 2015 semester this week.

“It’s been a two-year process, and the process has been good,” said Garland “Chico” Rodriguez, assistant director of building services for UL-Lafayette. “We’re very excited for this thing to be open not only for the students but also the public.”

The new union will have a soft launch on Wednesday as a few featured components of the building are not complete.

The new 178,000-square-foot union dwarfs its 125,000-square-foot predecessor with amenities like an art museum, multiple food stations, a larger dining hall and a large courtyard overlooking the university’s Cypress Lake.

“This will be a one-stop shop for students,” Rodriguez said.

The first real part of the union to get up and going is the Cypress Lake Dining Hall, which has been feeding students since last week.

Other features that will open this week include the student meeting rooms, coffee shop, other food stations and administration offices.

Rodriguez said out of all the features students were excited about in the union, the new dining hall probably was top on their lists.

“I really like the ice cream machine,” said mechanical engineering major and building services worker Brennan Landry. “It’s not up yet, but once it starts running, it ought to be good.”

The new dining hall will have the capacity to seat and feed about 800 students at one time, almost twice as many as the previous union’s 450.

It also offers outdoor dining options and a private section with a view of the university’s Cypress Lake that Rodriguez cited as his favorite place in the new union.

Trey Lemaire, Landry’s coworker and also a mechanical engineering senior, was at the university when the old union was up and running.

“(The new union) is made more to hang out and gather here,” he said. “There’s lounges. The meeting rooms are nicer. It’s a lot better for meeting and getting something to eat. With the old union, you’d get there and there was nowhere to hang out, and the food choices were slim. It’s a much better hangout spot.”

Information desk worker and general studies senior Russ Rodriguez agreed.

“With it being so open, you’ll have a lot more opportunities for people to meet and hang out,” he said.

On the first floor, there’s a room with about 20 sectioned-off work spaces for student organizations to rent through the university’s Office of Student Engagement and Leadership.

The first floor also will feature a coffee shop offering Starbucks-brand coffee as well as a ground-floor view of the newly renovated Boucher Drive and the University’s Rose Garden.

“It’s a lot more open,” Russ Rodriguez said. “You don’t feel as claustrophobic as you would in the old union.”

Filling in the “U” shape of the new Student Union is an all-grass courtyard that will give students a place to sit in the sun and enjoy the view of Cypress Lake.

The new union bookstore still is in the process of being built in the footprint of the old union bookstore. Two segments of the old union were kept and renovated to house the bookstore and Bayou Bijou Theater

Garland Rodriguez said the bookstore and the university’s theater along with the Student Union post office and Bursar’s Office should be complete by the beginning of February.

The $40 million project, which includes the renovations of the two sections of the old union and construction of the new Student Union, was funded by student fees.

The three halls between the union and Hebrard Boulevard — Guillory, Lafayette and Vermilion halls — will be demolished around the end of February.

The demolition will make room for a green space that Garland Rodriguez said could one day become a site for a new building or perhaps something else.