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Aug. 31, 2012
CONTACT: Gordon Ovenshine

Smith Student Center wows users

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - 10 Reasons to love the new Robert M. Smith Student Center

  • Movie theatre with surround sound
  • Hugh ballroom for activities
  • Expanded Bookstore
  • Open design, green roof
  • Quaker Steak & Lube, Starbucks
  • Fireplace lounge
  • Student meeting rooms
  • Commuter pantry with lockers
  • Electronic technology center
  • Cool waterfall fountain
Students and staff say Slippery Rock University's new Robert M. Smith Student Center is an "eye-grabber" with lots of "firsts." Its presence ads a punctuation mark to the campus renaissance and gives students a convenient hub for socializing, studying, eating, banking, taking in a movie and buying textbooks.

"Other than the obvious of having a new beautiful building, the new student center makes things more simple for students to have everything in one place," said Hollie Carlson, a health and physical education major from Rockwood. "The building offers a lot of open space for students to hang out or work but also has student activities and offices located all over the place."

The $39-million facility, named in honor of former SRU President Robert Smith, connects the residential and academics portions of the campus and makes a statement about the University's commitment to students. The 106,869-square-foot-building, funded through student fees and conceived by SRU's Student Government Association, incorporates glass walls, a food court with the first Quaker Steak & Lube Restaurant on a college campus, a new Rocky's, a new SGA Bookstore, Starbucks, a theater, ballroom and student meeting rooms.

"My favorite part, I would have to say, is the movie theater," said Oliver Laniear, a criminology major from Pittsburgh. "One of the main reasons I am excited about it is because maybe this will be the one thing that helps keep people on campus over the weekends instead of going home. The more we offer here, the more students will stay and the faster students will fall in love with being here at SRU."

The theater, which seats 250, can also be used for receptions, special events and performances.

Intimate seating areas, high ceilings and bright décor add to the atmosphere inside the center.

"The building is very nice and well designed," Laniear said. "You can see why it took so long in the planning process. Students do care about having a nice facility. I have already heard comments about the different feeling you get from being in the new building compared to the old. It is more of a professional building now and with all the offices centralized there is more unity within."

Paula Olivero, assistant vice president for student development, said the design of the center was intentional to fit the see-and-be-seen culture students like.

"I have to pinch myself some days to believe that after all these years we finally have the building," she said. "What I love about it is that it was designed from the beginning to be student centered. We now have more space for meetings and opportunities for student organizations to work collaboratively with one another."

The idea for a new student union was launched in December 2004 when then Student Government Association President Jude Butch notified the administration that the SGA had approved a resolution requesting the expenditure of $40,000 from University Union fees to conduct a feasibility study on renovation or construction of a new student union. It would take nearly six years, two student referendums, dozens of focus groups and last-minute politicking in Harrisburg before University administrators and students broke ground in October 2010.

The three-story building includes a rain runoff system and a specialized parking lot to prevent snow accumulation. The fireplace and commuter lounges surrounding the atrium are available as study spaces. Wireless access enables students to do personal computing.

"It offers a wow factor for students in many ways," said Christopher Cole, director. "Students walk in the front door and immediately feel as if they're in the hub of the campus. It is designed to be the central meeting place of the campus. So students walking in the building sense immediately that this is a place that whatever I need to do I can take care of ¬- anything from shopping to eating, and banking to studying. The way the building is laid out, each floor has a different zone."

The Smith Student Center was designed to feature lots of open space and give students a sense of being connected, he said. The front of the building on the first floor is separated from the outside pedestrian plaza by glass walls and doors so you can see everyone whether inside or outside, Cole said.

"There is a concept that is driving a lot of college campus development called 'See and Be Seen.' We used that," Cole said. "We know students want to be able to see who they are interacting with, see who else is in the space, and be seen by their friends. So that idea of being constantly connected created a different design; it is a very open facility, and there is a lot of glass."

The new bookstore offers the convenience of being on one floor with a separate entrance for textbooks. Bookstore manager Joe Flynn said a grand opening would take place during homecoming week, with giveaways and other promotional specials.

New is the Electronic Technology Center, which sells computers, printers and other electronics. Flynn said the bookstore, which employs 25 students and 11 full-time staff, has new Rock apparel for sale as well.

"We've had a lot of foot traffic already. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," he said. People like the layout. They like that the store is on one floor, easily accessible and an open format."

Keithen Polk, a management major from Erie, said he believes the Quaker Steak & Lube and Starbucks will be big hits with students, and that the building represents a new era for student centeredness.

"This is an important new structure because it gives the University a different look and appeal," he said. "By having this new center, it attracts more people to come see Slippery Rock University, it shows that Slippery Rock University is making the campus a lot more comfortable by pleasing the students with the new venues that were being put in. It shows that Slippery Rock likes to take care of its students and give them a rock solid education."

Polk said the new bookstore offers more space, opportunity for browsing and will be less crowded during rush periods.

"The new building has a fantastic look," he said. "My favorite places were the theater and the ballroom."

The first floor is the retail zone that includes grab-and-go retail, the new bookstore, a Starbucks, Electronic Technology Center, PNC bank, Information Desk and administrative offices. The student life and cooperative activities offices have already moved in, and Conference Services will relocated to the center after Labor Day weekend, Cole said.

The second floor is designed as a student living room where students sit and stay awhile. It offers a food court, the Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant, a fireplace lounge and a commuter kitchenette with lockers. Student organizations, the Center for Student Involvement and Leadership, Office of Multicultural Development and the Women's Center are located on this floor.

The third floor includes meeting and conference rooms, a ballroom for banquets and the movie theatre providing "a full movie theatre experience," Cole said. A surround sound stereo system and Blu-Ray Player technology complement the big video screen. The individual accordion seats can be retracted along the wall, leaving a flat floor surface for other events.

Also on the third floor is the Student Government Association, University Program Board, Greek Affairs, Black Action Society, Student Union for Multicultural Affairs and the LGBTQ Resource Room.

"I like the new building. It's big, and there is enough space to actually hang out and do work," said Gelisa Bonner, a criminology major from Pittsburgh. "There is a ballroom and theatre, so instead of having to go off campus, everything is right there. It's more accessible and easier to reach."

Bonner said she expects the Quaker Steak & Lube and Starbucks to be huge hits. "I know students used to complain that we didn't have Starbucks coffee in the old union, but now we have an official Starbucks. It feels like SRU is really catering to students."

Jacqueline Bailey, a history graduate student from Butler, said the new building is stunning and blends well with newly renovated buildings on campus.

"There are many aspects of the new union that will be a hit with students - Starbucks, Quaker Streak & Lube, the movie theater," she said. "I also found it really cool that the Electronic Technology Center sells computers and printers. And the new bookstore is much more organized than the old one. The new center is a great addition to campus."

Slippery Rock University is Pennsylvania's premier public residential university. Slippery Rock University provides students with a comprehensive learning experience that intentionally combines academic instruction with enhanced educational and learning opportunities that make a positive difference in their lives.