Students keep space a priority after setback

Top administrators again refused to adopt the Student Association’s plan to increase student space on campus, but the group’s leaders say they will not shift their priorities for the second half of their term.

SA President Ashwin Narla said he will continue to push for renovations to the Marvin Center, though Provost Steven Lerman and Executive Vice President and Treasurer Lou Katz wrote in a public letter Monday that the construction was far from landing on GW’s agenda.

Narla said he will create a task force comprising students and administrators to strike a compromise to expand GW’s student center while the University squeezes in more office space. He said he discussed the idea with Lerman but needs to get approval from University President Steven Knapp next week.

“You need to start at the task force level. That’s how the University operates. It’s how things get done,” Narla said.

Narla said the task force could pinpoint the most effective ways to add student space to every new building project, while working to modernize current space with a focus on the Marvin Center.

He wants students to help decide what kind of space to create in the two basement floors of GW’s new residence hall, the “superdorm,” which will go under construction this summer. Lerman and Katz said in the letter that the space would be devoted to students.

“Whenever we plan new construction and on campus renovations, we seek to provide student spaces that serve a wide range of student needs,” Lerman and Katz wrote. “We believe the best approach is to integrate student spaces into our new buildings and renovations, and this is the approach we have been pursuing.”

Narla was “surprised” that his two proposals on student space, which he said gained traction at the Board of Trustees meeting last week, did not have more clout with the University’s top administrators.

“Its frustrating that the board’s philosophy is not exactly what we talked about in the meeting, and its not what we talked about in the plan,” Narla said at the SA Senate meeting Monday night.

Narla and Executive Vice President Abby Bergren have spent more than six months advocating for more space, and said they are looking forward to further negotiations.

Senior Johannes Schmidt said the need for more space on the maxed-out campus is apparent.

“If we’re paying close to $60,000 a year to be here, there’s no reason that every student shouldn’t have access to space to do what he or she came to college to do, whether that means studying, joining or starting clubs, or sitting around and talking politics with friends,” Schmidt said.

Freshman Ariella Neckritz agreed. She said student “dollars should help foster more school activities.”

“GW should influence and encourage student interests and support creativity and innovation through allowing student organizations adequate space to meet,” Neckritz said.

This year’s feverish attempt to lobby for more space stems from students and campus organizations arguing that they cannot find space to study, hold events and hang out on campus.

GW has taken steps to increase student space in recent years. In 2007, University President Steven Knapp banned outside organizations with no ties to students, faculty or departments from booking space in the Marvin Center.

A student-led renovation converted several rooms on the building’s fourth floor into meeting rooms this year, helping to address the space issue for formal gatherings.

Narla said that is not enough.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said there have been about 6,300 booking in the Marvin Center since Aug. 1, and zero bookings by non-GW parties.

The “University component” mandate has led to increased attendance and interest in events, Assistant Vice President of Events and Venues Michael Peller said, coupled with an increase in student demand for the space.

“Knapp’s regulations have put a singular focus on the issue,” Peller said. “That’s what we’re here for, to provide resources and opportunities for members of our community to participate in.”

Now, nights and weekends are reserved almost solely by students. Weekdays, when students have class, the building is used by outside organizations or University departments.

Eight years ago, the building was rented to unaffiliated organizations to pull in revenue under former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg.

About one-third of Marvin Center room reservations went to students in 2005, compared to 40 percent of space used by students in the 1998-1999 school year. Over this period, non-University group usage of student space doubled to about 13 percent.

Senior Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski, who ran the Marvin Center for three years under Trachtenberg, said the policy change has improved student life on campus. He added the Marvin Center is “a true community space and serves a huge need.”

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