With the opening of the commons, it’s hard not to notice the volume of empty space left around campus. Dante’s is joked about as being a “ghost town,” and there just aren’t as many engineering students doing homework in the Leo basement with the cafeteria closed. Administrators say that by June, most of this unused space will be accounted for with the completion of the college’s master plan.
“About six months before the commons opened, we put together a ‘space planning taskforce’ and that group was charged with identifying the spaces that became available as part of the commons opening and then soliciting space needs from the college community,” Vice President for Facilities Andy Ryan said.
Ryan said that to “solicit the space needs” the taskforce asked for requests from all of the different departments and offices on campus that were in need of more space. That resulted in a pile of about 30 requests that now sit on his desk.
Ryan said that the campus master plan, which the campus space allocations are a part of, is about 80 percent complete and should be finalized by the end of June. By that time there will be a preliminary idea of what the empty spaces will be used for.
Some of the received requests were “fairly low-impact,” Ryan said, where there was a clear place where the requesters could move to that probably wouldn’t be utilized as well by anyone else. An example Ryan gave was the Office of Residence Life’s move to the old Student Activities suite in Thomas Hall. The space was move-in ready and essentially the department only had to “pick up their boxes and bring them down the hall.”
Most of the other requests involve construction renovations in some way.
For instance, an overhaul is already planned for the Dante’s space. Ryan said that in general terms it will be a “student engagement suite.” The Center for Academic Success and the Center for Career Development are some of the departments that will be housed there.
Many variables are taken into account when the Space Allocation Committee and Master Plan Advisory Committee work to decide how each requesting department’s needs will be met. They try to find ways to keep departments and offices together while also taking into account the size of the space requested.
Size plays a huge factor in the space in the Leo Engineering Building.
“There were three big footprints that became available as part of the commons,” Ryan said “Dante’s—which we’ve addressed—Leo cafeteria, and the bookstore.”
Ryan said that right now the cafeteria is currently functioning the same way it was before, that engineering students will “grab a sandwich and start doing their homework.”
“Then at some point in time a decision will be made if that space will stay the way it is or get repurposed,” he said. “There’s any number of potential needs down there, some of which are School of Engineering related, only because they’re probably the biggest tenant in that particular building.”
Tim Ward, dean of the School of Engineering, sits on the Master Plan Advisory Committee and helps makes decisions related to campus space issues. He echoed Ryan’s observations on the Leo building space and shared some of the ideas the committee has discussed for the space, most of which are engineering-related.
“The Leo Cafeteria and the bookstore are two spaces of interest in this building. So, what can we do with that space? Well there are different things we’re looking at,” he said. “The Leo Café right now is still being used by students to study and to eat their lunch and essentially be a place they can sit down.
“It’s kind of a relaxing place. I think it’s important to have that in this building. I’d like to keep some quiet space down here but I don’t know if that’s going to happen.”
In regards to the old bookstore, Ward said the new department chair of electrical and computer engineering needs some space to do his research, so a part of the area could potentially be carved out for him.
“We’re considering putting in another computer lab—a multiple use computer lab,” he said. “This is one that Dr. Gencarelli [chair of the communication department, also located in Leo] and I pitched this as a joint venture because we think we need something like the library, where students can go and do their word-processing and printing.”
A computer lab is an idea that appeals to some students who spend a lot of time in Leo. Cliff Keeling, a senior mechanical engineering major, mentioned the thought when asked what he’d like to see done with the space.
“Would it be possible to turn the cafeteria into small computer lab?” he said. “That way when RLC gets packed, we can go there. Or they could put a Starbucks down there and make it more like the second floor of Kelly Commons.”
Still, as Ryan and Ward said, definite plans depend on decisions reached by the committees based on in-depth evaluations of the needs of different departments on campus.
“Some people in here have big chunks of space that they need,” Ryan said, pointing to the request pile. “They’re both [cafeteria and bookstore] below grade, so there are certain functions that wouldn’t go well down there. On the other side, some functions would fit really well down there—like science labs, engineering labs. And engineering has the longest list [of requests].”