Academic Commons undergoes renovations, more in the works

DWA 101 students have their group meetings and study sessions on the main floor of the Academic Commons at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Oct. 18, 2018. Nancy Zhou/The Occidental.

The Mary Norton Clapp Academic Commons underwent many new renovations over the summer, implemented by the Facilities department and led by Marsha Schnirring, interim assistant dean of the Center for Digital Liberal Arts (CDLA) and Academic Commons and the secretary of the college. Renovations included changes to the entryway, updated group study rooms and new furniture on the main level. The college previously renovated the Academic Commons in 2017, implementing changes to flooring, wall paint, the Writing Center and the Peer Subject Advising Center.

Occidental’s strategic plan, a document established by a committee of students, administrators, faculty and staff that identified shared commitments to specific areas of Occidental, highlights the importance of renovating the Academic Commons into the campus intellectual center. According to Schnirring, there has not been any direct funding provided for a complete overhaul renovation of the whole building. The majority of the funding has come from the college’s maintenance, repair and replacement budget, in addition to grants or Facilities money. As a result, the project has gone in stages, renovating smaller portions of the library at a time, according to Schnirring.

All of the new renovations were first discussed when President Veitch arrived at Occidental in 2009, according to Schnirring.

“When President Veitch first became the president of Oxy, one of the areas that he identified in need of renovations was the library,” Schnirring said.

The CDLA has focused many aspects of the renovation on digitalizing records and displaying student digital work near the main entrance, according to Chris Gilman, associate director of the CDLA and affiliated faculty in the Comparative Literature and Culture Department. The idea behind displaying student and faculty work near the main entrance is to allow for members of the community to talk and relax prior to starting their work. Gilman said that the end goal of the renovation was to create a warm, welcoming environment, like a cafe, where members of the community can feel free to chat.

“Overall, the idea [for the main entrance] was essentially to have a cafe with everything except for the coffee,” Gilman said. “It would be a place where people would feel comfortable coming in and hanging out for maybe a half hour or so before going off to do other things.”

Making the Academic Commons a place of community learning is another goal of the renovations, according to User Experience Specialist Brian Chambers. One purpose of the main entrance renovations was to incorporate student and faculty art in the main entrance for people to see right when they walk in.

“New ideas and thoughts are sparked, and when you walk into the space, you are immediately greeted with art,” Chambers said.

Numerous other areas in the library have also been renovated, according to Schnirring. A former office on the third floor has been transformed into a computer science classroom. The downstairs viewing rooms have all received brand new LED TVs. Additionally, the third-floor stacks, where all of the art books are housed, are currently undergoing renovations to become a quiet study reading room.

Elina Woolever finishes wiring her essay in the quiet section on the third floor of the Academic Commons at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Oct. 18, 2018. Nancy Zhou/The Occidental.

“We were able to paint and carpet that whole upstairs area, and furniture has been ordered for that, which is akin to what the downstairs reading room looks like,” Schnirring said.

According to the Academic Commons 2017–2018 Annual Report, the library was open for approximately 5,236 hours during the academic year and 24/7 during finals. Many students get hungry without any food options besides the vending machines in front of Academic Commons late at night, according to Schnirring’s conversations with students. Amid recent rumors of a cafe opening in the library, Schnirring said that it is too expensive, and the permitting from the LA Department of Health would require another building or expansion. However, there are plans to turn the snack lounge, currently located on the first floor past the bathrooms and across from the stacks, into a room with more food options by Spring 2019, according to Schnirring.

“What we’ve been exploring over the summer and this past semester with Campus Dining is an expansion of the vending option,” Schnirring said. “We’re looking to turn that snack lounge into a place where we can provide food and coffee.”

When describing the plans, Schnirring said the space could look more like the dry snack area in the Marketplace, across from the fountain drinks and next to the sandwich bar. This new food option could be available to students through their meal plan money, as opposed to vending money, according to Schnirring.

Some of the plans for the renovations have been completed, yet more projects are planned for the future under the maintenance, repair and replacement budget. Schnirring is working closely with Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) to help get students involved in renovation ideas.

“We are forming an advisory group and are looking for students who would be interested in that,” Schnirring said.

If students are interested in getting involved with the renovation planning process or want to learn more, Schnirring offers office hours on the main floor of the library, Wednesdays, from 7–9 p.m.