The scent of freshly brewed coffee, the hustle and bustle of hundreds of students, and an aesthetically pleasing set of grand stairs, comfy chairs, and paneled wood emerge from behind the glass. It may be hard to do anything but blink upon opening the large double glass doors, but you’re not in Hollywood. You’ve just entered the new Robert M. Smith Student Center.
The $33 million Robert M. Smith Student Center, or as some students refer to it, “The Bob,” has, since its opening to the public in July 2012, become the center of student life at SRU. But according to Christopher Cole, Director of the Student Center, the new student center has been a long time coming.
The idea first arose nine years ago in April 2003, when President Robert M. Smith began meeting with students and campus administrators to discuss the possibility of building new on-campus facilities. Since then, the idea has undergone serious thought, study, planning, and implementation by not just professionals, but students as well.
Students were constantly being sought out for input on everything from what they wanted in the student center (a movie theater and name-brand food franchises for example) to which furniture they wanted, according to Cole.
“Students were involved every step of the way in the process,” Cole said.
Businesses inside of the student center are also pleased to be serving up the student population the things that they want this semester, according to Joshua Halliday, Director of Retail Operations at the new Quaker Steak and Lube, one of two new franchises that have joined the new student center.
“The big advantage is that the students voted for Quaker Steak and Lube, and we gave the students what they were asking for… My favorite thing about [the restaurant] is that we are able to provide the students with service that they’re looking for,” Halliday said.
Joe Flynn, manager of the SGA Student Bookstore and the new Electronic Technology Center or E.T.C., which now reside on the first floor of the new student center, says that the new building has opened many doors for students who visit the bookstore.
“It’s a new and updated facility,” Flynn said. “It’s more of a retail environment. It’s attractive, more of a reason for students to come and spend time in the student center.”
He adds that the extra room and new layout have also impacted student customers, staff, and their friends and family.
“We’ve had very positive comments from the customers,” he said. “[They love] the one-floor shopping; there are no steps, no elevators. It’s a much more open format.”
Plus, more room allows for more merchandise options, like brighter clothing choices and a new book rental kiosk, and more job openings for students.
“The biggest area that we had to staff was the E.T.C. because it’s separate from the bookstore now, and we really want it to be more of a service-type place where if a customer has a question about their hardware/software, someone will be able to answer their question and help out,” Flynn said.
Cole explained that one of the architectural focuses when designing the building was on a concept known as “See and Be Seen.”
“One of the driving design elements of this building is that people in the building want to be able to see who else is in the space,” he said. “There’s a lot of glass [and] there’s a lot of openness—everything from the glass office fronts to standing on the third floor, you can look over the balcony onto the second floor and also see all the way down to the main lobby on the first floor.”
This type of design allows people to experience what’s going on around them and to be aware of the people around them, according to Cole.
Halliday also noted the importance of the “See and Be Seen” design as he talked about why students will love Quaker Steak and Lube.
“I think a lot of it comes down to the community atmosphere,” he said.
As Cole named other functions of the new student center, such as the ballrooms and meeting rooms, student organization offices, Starbucks, and more, it was clear that the new center ultimately provided one main purpose—an area that would best serve SRU’s students.
“I think it’s a great space,” said Cole. “I really like it. Most of what I’ve heard has been very positive. We’re excited to see how the space functions, how students move into the space and make use of it so that we can adapt and adjust into meeting students’ needs, not just now but for the next 20 to 30 years. We want this to be the space that students want it to be.”