Progress Report: Student Commentary on the New Student Centre

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With the first two weeks of class now concluded at Trent University, new and returning students have gotten a feel for their surroundings. Such a task involves becoming used to upheaval in the 2017-2018 academic year; the Bata library closure, an increasing student population, 8 AM classes, and construction on Symons campus’ east bank all come to mind. Perhaps most notably, however, is the new Student Centre on Symons’ west bank.

According to previous Arthur reporting in 2012, the idea of a Student Centre has been on and off the debate table for roughly 30 years. The idea was most recently resurrected in 2010, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now there is finally a Student Centre eclipsing the presently-hollow Bata library, though cranes loom above the building and steel containers occupy west bank parking lots. How do the students – the core, namesake, and billpayers of the project – feel about the building so far?

The Student Centre has been partially operational since September 7, the first day of general undergraduate classes for the year. The spaces opened are the three new classrooms. Julianne Robinson, a first-year Biology student, says with a wide smile, “I’m loving it!” She notes that her classroom is bright, big, and nice, and that the visibility in the classroom is great.

Two of these are medium and large lecture halls, boasting 100- and 200-person capacities respectively. First-year Chemistry student Sarah Weber has an applied calculus class that takes place in Stohn Hall, named after generous donor and notable university alumni Stephen Stohn. Stohn Hall is the larger of the two lecture halls in the Student Centre, and Sarah confirms its capabilities: “[Applied calculus is] a large class, and there’s still space.” To compare, Otonabee College’s Wenjack theatre seats up to 374 people, and Gzowski College’s room 114 seats 215 people.

The third of these spaces is a 60-person classroom. Trent Central Student Association (TCSA) President Brandon Remmelgas expresses excitement over this smaller “Active Learning” room, as the university website describes it. He notes that it is equipped with foldable tables and chairs with wheels. This will allow educators to use the space more dynamically, should they see fit.

While first-year students express their delight, upper-year students respond with a mix of mild disappointment and pleasant surprise.

“My experience so far with the classes in the Student Center has been good considering the circumstances of the building. There was [construction] noise periodically but nothing loud enough to overpower the professor,” says Craig Rutherford, a fourth-year Forensics student. “The fact that the building appears to still be so far away from being complete is frustrating but it is what it is.”

“It looks like [the building] has most of the major elements finished off, but most of the details aren’t done. I can see spots on the drywall that still need to be patched, or where electrical outlets are going,” fourth-year English student Allister Carl notices when attending his introductory media studies class. “But who knows? There seems to be some potential in the place.”

Osasu Aikhionbare and Vince Park, third-year Forensics and Chemistry students, believe that the Student Centre is a nice place. Simultaneously, they express irritation with the need for security guards at the building’s current entrance. At the time of writing, students are only permitted in the Student Centre to attend class with minimal pre- and post-class lingering. Though security is present for student safety while construction is still underway, Osasu makes his desires clear: “The building needs to get finished.”

It is clear that upper-year students are feeling the temporary loss of Bata library, especially when approaching the new building and seeing its potential. However, this excitement – or anxiety – transcends students’ year of study.

“I don’t want [the Student Centre] to replace Bata, but I do hope there’s space to study and group meeting rooms to use,” says second-year Nursing student Megan Scott, on her way to attend her first class in the building. “It looks nice so far.”

“I’m already craving quiet study spaces and a busier place to connect with other students,” fourth-year Business Administration student Zarah Choudhry says, going into the second week of the semester. She echoes Megan’s sentiment, explaining, “This [space] is especially important to me as the majority of my business courses require me to meet up with group members to discuss projects and presentations.”

According to Remmelgas, the second floor has a designated space for silent study, similar to Bata’s third floor setup. There will also be rooms on this floor available for clubs and groups to use. The third floor of the Student Centre also has several group meeting rooms, two of which may be assigned formal purposes in the future.

A new event space will also be found on the first floor. With audio-visual technologies and collapsible furnishings, Remmelgas claims, “The space is flexible and would be great for anything from board meetings to yoga.” This room will be available for bookings by parties both inside and outside the Trent community. What is left to find out is when exactly these spaces, particularly those on the upper levels, will be fully operational and occupiable.

As a consolation, the highly-anticipated Symons campus Starbucks is on track to open on the day of the grand opening, as previously reported. The first floor will have an outdoor patio and indoor seating areas with a café atmosphere as a result, according to the university website.

With September ending and midterms on the horizon, the Student Centre becomes more of a source of restlessness for students. Only time will tell when the building will become what it has aimed to be for many years: a space by and for the students.