A spiral staircase may connect the Green Bean and a newly renovated Bengal Room by the time students return to Occidental for the Fall 2014 semester. The project would provide another multipurpose space for students and reduce crowding in the Green Bean. The Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) and Director of Student Life Tamara Rice are spearheading efforts but have yet to reach a final design.
Rice came up with the spiral staircase idea through her physical and professional proximity to both students and the space itself.
“In all honesty, I felt like I was joking about a spiral staircase in the Green Bean, but the more I would tell people about it, the more people were like, ‘That would be great!'” Rice said.
The Bengal Room was due to be renovated with the rest of the Johnson Student Center (JSC) renovations completed last summer, but had to be postponed because of budget constraints. President Jonathan Veitch, however, promised that the space would be remodeled and set the renovation budget for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Lounge in Pauley Hall as the standard for this project.
Rice thought the idea was lofty and expensive until Director of Facilities Tom Polansky confirmed that the construction would be structurally and financially viable. She approached class senator and Diplomacy and World Affairs major Chris Weeks (sophomore), who had been pursuing the creation of another recreational space on campus.
“What [ASOC is] really trying to do is be the force that really pushes this forward,” Weeks said.
Facilities, in conjunction with ASOC and Rice, will determine the final budget for whatever the space eventually becomes. Funding will come from the college’s fund for building, maintenance and renovation. ASOC can choose to supplement the budget if needed.
Facilities, ASOC and Rice must consider many obstacles before forging ahead with this project. When considering how to use the space, they need to take into account how sound will travel, how the hours of the Bengal Room would coincide with the Green Bean’s hours and who would maintain the Bengal Room. Determining where to put the staircase will require them to examine where wiring and plumbing are located, what the fire codes are and where there is enough space to drill through the floor and install a staircase. Facilities will hire an architect to assess the layout and recommend a suitable placement of the staircase and design for the Bengal Room. Even after surmounting these obstacles, they must send the plans to the City of Los Angeles for approval.
Rice hopes to decide on how to use the space by April so that construction can begin over the summer. With this timeline, the newly expanded Green Bean will be revealed by the time school begins in the fall.
“Before we start cutting a hole in the floor, I want to make sure students like this idea,” Rice said. “It’s exciting that we have this opportunity, but it also is daunting because first of all, we’re not going to please everybody. I guess what my goal is with this idea and this project is the greatest good for the greatest number of people.”
ASOC emailed a survey to the student body last Wednesday to gauge the popularity of the idea of expanding the Green Bean. The survey also included options for the Bengal Room’s transformation. When the survey closed, 720 students had responded. The concept of a stairwell connecting the two rooms received overwhelming support, with 90 percent of respondents voting yes to the question, “Do you like the idea of a spiral staircase connecting the Green Bean to the Bengal Room?”
When asked what they would like to see in the Bengal Room, 57 percent voted for a pub space with a bar, bar stools and restaurant style booths. Twenty percent voted for a recreational space with bean bags and couches, while 15 percent want a set up similar to the current. The final eight percent chose “other,” and recommended options such as a combination of two previous options or a stage area for events like open mic nights.
If part of the Bengal Room became a pub, organizations could host Type Three events, which allow the sale of alcohol to students over 21. A kegerator could be installed for use at these events. Even though the pub option received the most votes, both Rice and Weeks emphasized that to take advantage of the space, the room will have multiple uses so that it can be open in the morning as well as the evening. The space could have a pub aesthetic, but would also be a space for studying.
“I think that this renovation would really open up a lot of potential because it would free up the Green Bean and it would create more of a quiet study area for people who choose to study,” Weeks said. “I really also see it as a multi–use space. Especially now that there is a temporary ban on dances, I think that a renovation to the Bengal Room could open up a lot of options for alternative forms of student night life.”
The concept of connecting the Bengal Room and the Green Bean addresses not only the promise to renovate the Bengal Room, but the increasing business in the Green Bean. Since the coffee shop opened in the fall of 2009, sales have risen steadily. Students commonly experience a line winding to the back of the room during the peak morning hours, detracting from the coffee shop’s initial purpose as a central place on campus for meetings or studying.
A spiral staircase would also make the Bengal Room more accessible, since students currently need to enter either through the JSC lobby or from the back of the building near Patterson Field.
“The Green Bean was a lot more a place where, all the time, you could just come in a hopefully find a place to sit and do you work. Now it always seems kind of stressful and crowded,” Sales Analysis Manager and math and economics double major Tyler Radler (senior) said. “We’re trying to figure out ways to expand. We can’t really go up, can’t really go out either, but basically it’s a great option to go down.”