Renovations will bring big changes to the Commons

By Maria Ribas

The game room of the Tyler Haynes Commons, that couch haven next to The Cellar, will soon live up to its name and feature billiard tables, flat screen televisions, and video games.

According to Max Vest, director of Student Activities, that is just one of the many changes expected to take place in the Commons during the next year. Although Tyler's Grill will remain as it is, The Collegian, WDCE, WCGA, RSCGA, and various other on-campus groups' offices are being relocated. The Career Development Center will move from the basement of Richmond Hall to the vacated space on the third floor of the Commons.

"The Commons is the primest piece of real estate on campus so it was a matter of deciding which groups had to be there and which could be moved," Vest said.

The decision to renovate the Commons stemmed from brewing student dissatisfaction with the use of the space. An online survey conducted in January found that only 8 percent of the 768 students polled thought that the Commons was better than similar facilities at other universities and 68 percent thought it was comparable or worse.

Several student focus groups also expressed concern about the quality and diversity of food options at Tyler's Grill. The idea was raised to bring in a chain restaurant, such as Panera Bread or Subway, but students were unwilling to sacrifice the variety of sandwiches, burgers, yogurt, and chips that an independent vendor can sell.

"I'm disappointed that students didn't support bringing in brand name food," said Lochrane Smith, a sophomore who was part of the WCGA focus group. "Many students complain about the quality of the food at The Pier, but without student support the administration probably won't work as hard to change anything."

Vest said it would have been difficult to fit an outside food vendor where Tyler's Grill now is. Unlike other buildings on campus, an addition is not a possibility. The Commons was built before the Chesapeake Bay Act was passed, which now prohibits building within 100 feet of a body of water such as Westhampton Lake.

It was therefore necessary to maximize the use of the space and many students felt the game room was not being used well. According to market research done by Porter Consulting in November of 2007, students said that the space was not conducive to studying because of excess sound levels and the feeling of being watched by passersby on the upper level walkway. The students consulted envisioned the space as a late-night gathering spot, with flat screen televisions and pool tables.

That vision will likely become a reality, as plans are currently being developed to transform the area into a true game room. Construction is scheduled for January and February of 2009.

But, transforming the space into an activity-specific area will mean it can no longer host events such as blood drives and the Senior Citizens Prom. These events will likely be relocated to the Alice Haynes Room, although that entails reduced visibility from outside foot traffic.

The second floor of the Commons will also receive a makeover, with quarry tile similar to the tile by Tyler's Grill replacing the old linoleum. Flat screen televisions will be installed displaying, among other things, advertising for student groups. The use of the Westhampton Hanging Lounge is also being reassessed, although facilities officials are uncertain what could replace it or adapt it to better use.

Before the game room is renovated, the third floor of the Commons will undergo an extensive reorganization. The new Career Development Center is expected to occupy 50 percent of the current meeting space, so the suite of meeting rooms and the banner art room will be combined into one large meeting space. The Collegian and WDCE will be relocated to new offices in the basement of North Court. These changes are scheduled for this summer, beginning in May and ending by mid-September.

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