I am asking students to think outside the box. The mailbox, if you will. For some time I have been discussing changes to the Coates University Center, and those changes are finally coming to fruition. Part of what sparked this was consolidation of Central Receiving operations on Kings Court with the Mail Center operations at the Coates Center. From an efficiency and business standpoint this made sense.
Additionally, I have wanted to move the mailboxes out of the Coates Center. On most campuses, mailboxes are in the residence halls. Our halls don't have main desks or spaces for boxes so they have been centralized up in Coates since 1987. They were actually placed in Coates to drive student traffic into the building.
The problem is that we have been using our best real estate in a prime location for static mailboxes. It is kind of like putting your air conditioner in your living room. But it is all we know so we haven't really questioned it. If you have toured other campuses, however, you quickly note that most have more current, modern, dynamic and interactive spaces in their university centers than we have in ours. We have fallen behind. At the same time, our building has a certain amount of charm to it and we don't need a new one. Most comparable institutions have their dining hall as part of their University Center - but we don't. What we need our space to be is not merely a pass-through facility, but a destination place.
So far, that hasn't been popular with students. Mostly there are concerns with distance and parking and waiting. This summer, additional measures have been implemented to try to minimize some of the issues. As with most decisions, there are choices to be made and trade-offs to consider. I ask our students to be patient in this transition and to consider what they are getting (a better University Center, year-round) versus what they are losing (package pick-up in the center of campus). If each student considers the handful of times he or she receives packages against the potential increased use of the University Center as a gathering space, the trade-off will be worth it.
When students return in August, they will find a much more comfortable and student-friendly place to relax, study, hang-out, and hold events. Among the changes:
- There will be a variety of seating options in the main lobby for those who want to sit at tables, sit in small groups, or work on a large table.
- The former mailbox area will feature technology options and a television as well as several different seating options.
- There will be tables with umbrellas outside of the mailbox area window.
- Upstairs Coates will feature small study areas for individuals and groups and a lounge area with recliners and sofas that can be extended for naps by collapsing the end caps.
- The Commons will hopefully feature a less obtrusive drink station and a new sandwich line.
- We hope to have the Commons open from morning to night without interruption.
Down the road, there will be many bigger changes to the facility as centers developed in the strategic plan will result in office re-locations throughout the building.
Most any change on a college campus is met with skepticism, initially. I assume that our students will love what they see, but will bemoan the issues with package pick-up. Give it a chance. Our students deserve a true University Center. These changes bring us much closer to that.