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Architecture firm examines campus spaces, solicits input

By Jieya Wen     10/7/14 5:24pm

Rice University has hired New York architecture firm Weiss/Manfredi to conduct a two-stage Student Space Study. The first stage of the study will investigate student space usage across campus, according to Vice President for Administration Kevin Kirby.

“We are to look at how [the spaces] are used and where the deficiencies lie,” Kirby said. “We anticipate [the first stage] being done in the next few months, hopefully by the end of the calendar year, or early next year.”

Kirby said the second stage of the study will focus on the Student Center and will address space usage, in addition to proposing changes and providing possible construction plans with different price points. The plans will also ensure the construction will not interfere with regular student activities. 

“We want to have [the results] by the end of the academic year,” Kirby said. “By May, we want to know what program we are going to have and what policy making should we change.”

The administration has formed a Student Space Study Steering Committee which consists of student and administrative representatives. 

Student Association President and committee member Ravi Sheth said he has tasked college presidents and senators with gathering student opinions to best represent the undergraduate student body on the Steering Committee.

“I have had our SA leadership assemble and analyze a wealth of survey data going back five years, with regards to student opinion around space use across campus,” Sheth, a Martel College senior, said. “This data, along with the opinions of student leaders, inform my representation to the Steering Committee.”

The study includes interviewing and surveying students, touring walking spaces around campus and researching Rice Memorial Center reservation forms for how various rooms in the Student Center are currently used. 

“At the end of September, the architects visited campus and met with focus groups, including a panel of campus-wide organization leaders, the college presidents and college masters,” Sheth said. “Through these meetings, the collective student opinion was voiced and communicated.”

Kirby said part of the funding for future construction comes from the money gained from selling KTRU’s broadcasting license in 2011. The university will fundraise further while conducting the study. 

“If we finish raising all the money next summer, it takes us about nine months to do the design and start construction and we can start maybe the following summer,” Kirby said. “But you almost never raise money that quickly.”

McMurtry College sophomore Isabella Yang said she thinks the Student Center has good use of space but the fact that student events are divided into each residential college makes the Student Center less popular. Yang participated in a New Student Representative project about the Student Center last year.

“In other universities, they have a pretty populated Student Center, since students couldn’t go elsewhere for events,” Yang said. “According to the surveys we collected from students, most want some more study areas; prices of all the stores should be lowered and it is recommended to get more study rooms there so that students can go for study[ing].”

Martel College junior Nick Merritt said since the Student Center is a hub for students, the university should prioritize it when considering where to make improvements.

“Coffeehouse sometimes gets too crowded,” Merritt said. “We should also improve the staircases in [the] RMC because the two stairs are very confusing.”

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