The Office of Student Life (OSL) and Facilities Management will begin remodeling the Bengal Room in the Johnson Student Center (JSC) Dec. 16. Diego Silva, assistant director for student life, student activities and Greek life, sent a campus-wide email Nov. 15 to inform students and invite them to a meeting to solicit community input Nov. 17. Bike Share, a student service that lends bikes to students free of charge, was the only group to attend the meeting. Ten unaffiliated students were also present, according to Bike Share employee Laurel Cheever (senior).
Although the Bengal Room was included in the design for the 2011 remodeling of the JSC, ultimately it was not remodeled due to budgetary constraints, according to Director of Student Life Tamara Himmelstein. President Jonathan Veitch promised that the Bengal Room would be renovated at a later time; now is that later time, Himmelstein said.
Bike Share members initially met with Himmelstein to lobby for usage of the space two years ago. They originally wanted exclusive use of the room, but Himmelstein said she vetoed their request, preferring that the room be multifunctional. No plans for the room were approved and it has remained empty for the past two years, according to Cheever.
At the Nov. 17 meeting, Bike Share lobbied again to relocate the bike cage from the Berkus Hall garage to the redesigned space, which is much more centrally located on campus. As of now, the OSL has only finalized plans for the furniture, flooring and general purpose of the room and is still hoping to receive student input via email or in-person visits before the remodel begins.
Diego Silva explained that the OSL’s proposal is to transform the room into a multipurpose space, designed to be more accessible for students. He characterized the current design as makeshift, mismatched and lacking a definite purpose.
The redesign proposal entails adding a hardwood floor, audio-visual equipment reminiscent of that which is available in Johnson Hall classrooms and a space for presentations or small performances. The redesigned room will likely include eight small square tables that seat four students each. For inspiration, the OSL is looking to the Green Bean’s design and color scheme.
To accommodate Bike Share’s request, Silva and his office have drawn up, but not finalized, several possibilities. These include a small workbench that could be rolled out of a storage room and bike lockers outside of the Bengal Room.
“We want to give them more of a physical space. And we want to support alternate forms of transportation,” Silva said. “I think Bike Share is a great program, so we want to help them out.”
Silva emphasized that the tentative plans will be finalized in the coming weeks, but he could not cite a definite date.
Himmelstein and Silva clarified that the funding for the remodel will come from Facilities’ budget. Silva added that the OSL may reach out to the Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) on behalf of Bike Share to help purchase equipment, though the office has not done so yet.
Silva said the OSL and Facilities chose Dec. 16 to begin the remodel to minimize interruptions to students’ studying. The remodeling will continue throughout Winter Break. Silva hopes the work will end before the first day of spring semester, Jan. 21, 2017, but he cautioned against treating this as a firm deadline.
“The No. 1 rule with construction is don’t ever promise an end date,” Silva said. “Between Dec. 16 and hopefully the first day of school, we [will] have a lot of it taken care of, but we don’t know, once we start lifting out things and breaking walls, what [we’re] going to find.”
Although Bike Share was the only group to attend the meeting, Silva said that he reached out to other student representatives for input. In particular, Silva said he spoke to student programming assistants and Greek Council members. He hopes more students will reach out to give feedback. He said that students could email him or visit him directly in his office within the Johnson Student Center. While he could not promise that the OSL would implement every idea, he said that he will work to fit students’ ideas into the planning process.
“As much as we can wait, we will wait to hear from students,” Silva said. “What we don’t want is to come out with a final product, and then all of a sudden [have] students say ‘we don’t want that.’”
Diego Silva can be reached at [email protected]