Elliott School officials to revamp building’s basement, increase community spaces

Media Credit: Grace Hromin | Photographer

The Elliott School's basement redesign fit into University President Thomas LeBlanc's plans to create a greater sense of community among students.

Elliott School of International Affairs officials plan to redesign the building’s basement to increase study and community spaces in the school.

The renovations will include furniture, improved lighting, TVs showing international news broadcasts and “potentially” vending machines as part of an effort to transform the basement into a student lounge, officials said. More than 10 students said the enhancements will help improve the sense of community among Elliott students by creating spaces where students can collaborate on work and study together.

“The goal of this project is to provide more common space for Elliott School students to study and socialize in a space of their own, to further foster a sense of community and academic excellence within the school,” University spokesman Jason Shevrin said in an email.

Shevrin said the redesign is a reflection of the school’s embrace to adopt a “student-centered” approach. University President Thomas LeBlanc named improving the student experience as one of his five main goals during his tenure, and community-building is one of his “guiding principles” for improving the experience.

Officials invested $10 million in campus improvements this summer partially aimed at improving community spaces, like Anniversary Park, for students.

Shevrin said officials also plan to add more furniture in study and meeting spaces on the second floor of the building if resources are available. He said the additions in the basement and on the second floor are currently in the “planning and design” stage.

Elliott School Dean Reuben Brigety announced plans to renovate the building’s basement at his annual State of the School Address earlier this month along with plans to improve the school’s racial diversity and offer more STEM-related courses in accordance with LeBlanc’s plan to boost the number of STEM majors.

Elliott students who do not use current study spaces in the school building said the building’s location at 1957 E St., far from the center of campus and several upperclassman residence halls, deters them from using the spaces. But the students said renovations could entice them to spend more time in the building.

Amaeka Effiong, a freshman majoring in international affairs, said she does not spend time in the building’s study spaces because most of her classes are located in academic buildings like Funger Hall that are relatively far from the school. She added that she would be more likely to use spaces in the building if there were more available community areas.

“I have trouble sometimes finding good places to study, so knowing Elliott is providing more space would be very attractive,” she said.

Sophomore Ben Freedman, an international affairs major, said the Elliott School building does not offer many study spaces for students to “congregate” with other students, other than the City View Room on the building’s top floor.

“I think renovating it to get more students to come is actually a really smart idea since the school is large enough where a lot of its classes are in separate buildings,” Freedman said.

Nick Smaldone, a freshman majoring in international affairs, said he would like officials to create private study spaces sectioned off in the school’s basement, which he said would benefit students who are easily distracted by their peers passing by to get to their classes.

“Students could concentrate without the noise and distraction of people going to and leaving class,” he said.

Smaldone said he most often uses the Elliott School building’s study spaces between the two classes he has in the building when he does not have enough time to go to a different location. He said officials should take advantage of the school being in one of the “few really nice modern buildings on campus” by encouraging more students to spend time there through renovations.

Smaldone added that incrementally increasing the number of spaces available could make a significant difference in the number of students interested in using them.

“I don’t think it would take much to get me to study more there,” Smaldone said.

Sophomore Kenna King, an international affairs major, said she would find it helpful if officials added chairs to the building’s second floor because it is located near Mitchell Hall, where she lives, which she said does not have enough communal study spaces for its residents.

She said she looks forward to using the new group study spaces in the basement to meet with friends or work on group projects instead of using a residence hall lounge or room or the few chairs currently available for students to use in the Elliott School building.

“Before the big lecture classes, there are always a lot of students hanging around and doing last minute studying,” she said in an email. “There are never enough chairs or tables to accommodate.”

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