Bengal Room opened to all student-run organizations

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Student organizations can reserve the Bengal Room through the Office of Student Life (OSL) starting this semester. The new policy is part of an effort to transform the space into a student-oriented, multi-use room, according to Director of Student Life Tamara Himmelstein.

“There’s a lot of places on campus where student use gets kind of bumped out,” Himmelstein said. “So for this space we wanted to make sure that student use was the priority.”

Bike Share was one of the first organizations to take advantage of the new opportunity, reserving the Bengal Room Friday afternoons from 1–5 p.m.

“For a couple of years now we’ve been looking at options for new spaces because we realize the limitations of this space,” Bike Share Director Charles Deffarges (senior) said of the student-run organization’s current base in the Berkus Hall garage.

The garage has no running water and is not well ventilated, according to Deffarges, which is problematic because of the chemicals they use to repair the bikes. The space also limits the size of the fleet, which is composed of 31 bikes.

His main concern, however, is the service’s limited visibility to the student population.

“We’re happy here [in the garage], but we serve the students and we want the students to have access to these bikes as much as possible,” he said.

The question of the room’s purpose was first brought up by Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) President Chris Weeks during his tenure as a sophomore senator, after Himmelstein informed him of funds available for a potential renovation.

ASOC then sent an informal poll out to students via email during the past semester gauging the campus opinion on how the space ought to be used. A majority of students supported the construction of a staircase connecting the Green Bean to the room and reported that they would like most to see the room become a pub space.

Several student-run organizations were disappointed with the structure of the poll, according to Weeks. Deffarges, too, expressed dismay that Bike Share was left off the ballot, forcing the organization to lobby for the space.

“It’s disappointing to me that people were asked to choose one or the other,” Deffarges said. “It’s not mutually exclusive. I think they work better together.”

Meanwhile, Facilities is currently investigating the feasibility and costs associated with the installation of a staircase from the Green Bean to the Bengal Room as a part of the planned renovation, Senior Project Manager John Mortl said via email.

Included in OSL’s design plan are an annex area for Green Bean patrons, a storage component for the Bike Share program, a small stage and a small bar for alcohol service.

Once Facilities approves a design plan and estimates construction, it will send a project funding request to Vice President of Finance and Planning Amos Himmelstein, according to Mortl. Weeks predicts that the plan will be completed by March 1, although Facilities has no timeline set.

Meanwhile, Tamara Himmelstein and Weeks intend to host meetings to discuss the direction of the project with organizations such as Bike Share and the Green Bean throughout the semester. Construction is slated to take place this summer, Himmelstein said.

“I know that there’s a lot of skepticism when it comes to construction, but I think that this renovation would be simple enough that it could be one that we stick to have up and running by next school year,” Weeks said.

Green Bean Manager of Staffing and Quality Control Samuel Wylie (senior) said that construction over the summer would be minimally invasive, occurring outside of the coffee shop’s hours of operation.

With the addition of the Bengal Room, he hopes that the Green Bean will be able to attract a more diverse group of patrons.

“I hope that where the Green Bean has failed to attract diverse crowds of students in the past, this new space can be an opportunity to be an all-inclusive, safe space for everyone on campus,” Wylie said.

Students interested in reserving the Bengal Room can do so through OSL on the bottom floor of the Johnson Student Center (JSC).