As Student Center renovations are nearing completion, social concerns linger
When Jordan Uranga returned to Washtenaw Community College this fall, he was gleeful that $1.7 million in recent renovations might strengthen the student experience.
The 19-year-old computer science major and pitcher for WCC’s club sports baseball team is grateful for changes he believes will encourage unity through, of all things, architecture.
“It can kind of bring people together,” Uranga said. “Making friends is a big part of college. This is definitely more helpful for interacting.”
But some students still feel alienated in the SC. Zachary Jackson, a 19-year-old fashion design major from Belleville noticed loners who appear out of place.
“If you don’t know anyone, it’s still hard to meet people here,” Jackson said. “It does allow people to group together, but I haven’t seen much integration between students from differing (high) schools.”
Uranga said he values the diversity of the furniture brought in after the renovations and looks forward to the varying arrangements allowing a newly expanded multitude of interactions. According to Vice President of Facilities Management, Damon Flowers, the renovations have added a total of 63 seats to last year’s 177 in the SC, bringing the total to 240.
Flowers plans to complete the renovations by late this month and maintains that the project was in response to student surveys and outcry for a change on the first floor of the building.
“We got a lot of complaints that the Student Center was too wide, open and noisy,” Flowers said. “And that there was nowhere to sit.”
First built in 1977, the Student Center has long been considered the hub for student life on campus, Flowers said. Part of the team who originally erected the building, Flowers admits that his crew worked and planned harder on the recent redesign than in previous efforts.
A lighter renovation, according to Flowers, took place in 1998 when former President, Larry Whitworth, took office. Planning for this year’s alteration began two and a half years ago with design principles were being refined as recently as 18 months ago, he said.
“We didn’t put nearly as much thought into the last one,” Flowers said. “We really considered spatial relationships this time. We were going for a mall kind of effect.”
The goal was to section off the primary seating areas from the food service and walkway. A partial wall has been constructed, running through the middle of the floor. It is intended to accentuate the path of travel away from students studying or lounging in the seating area, he said.
By the end of the month, translucent panels of Plexiglas will be built into the partial walls for a variety of privacy levels.
“We want to keep traffic moving. The floor kind of guides you,” Flowers said. “The purpose of this is to segregate noisy activities from seating areas. We want to provide, spatially, a variety of volumes and seating.”
Intent on creating a space that is more inviting to student collaboration, Flowers brought in furniture from a wealth of sources and relied heavily of vinyl upholstery to lower the acoustic vibrations in the SC.
“One purpose was to soften the atmosphere by creating clusters of areas as opposed to one large one with no separation between where you studied and ate,” he said. “Before, there was no real through-way.”
Karla Paterson, a part-time math instructor at WCC, takes joy in what she sees as an enhanced arena for students to team up in academic success. She applauds the college for the modernistic approach she believes was taken in the redesign.
“I like all the different study tables, different sizes for different sizes of groups,” Paterson said. “This gives them (students) a great opportunity to form study groups. It’s very inviting and modern; it makes me think of the 21st century.”
Other students contend that there is still little motivation to spend more time than necessary among the new designs and architecture present in the SC.
Angenique Normans, a 19-year-old music major from Ypsilanti, said in comparison to other, residential campuses, WCC’s SC leaves much to be desired.
“I think it’s pretty plain. At EMU’s (student center) there’s a lot more to do, but here you just study and leave,” Norman said. “It could be more inviting. They don’t even have carpet.”