After two years of lackluster performance, Harvard's Loker Commons underwent yet another series of changes this summer in an attempt to draw more students to the center.
Despite the vehemence of discontented undergraduates that was revealed in a survey last year, the changes are nearly invisible at first glance to the casual Loker-goer.
Last spring, students filled out surveys saying that the space seemed to be more of a study hall than a student center. Through minor structural alterations-the rearranging of service counters, the creation of a centralized bank of cash registers and the addition of a pool table-the center's management has attempted to counter students' main complaints and make service more accessible.
One of the more prominent complaints on the survey was the lack of fast food in the Commons. Although neither McDonald's nor Taco Bell will be able to greet those who "Loke," the administration responded to the complaints with new offerings, such as Pizzeria Uno's personal pizzas, Stockpot soups, Kahiki Chinese food, Don Miguel's Mexican food and fresh-cooked burgers at Harvard Dining Service's (HDS) new entry, A.J.'s Grill.
"All the changes are a direct response to students' reactions," said Eric C. Engel, director of the Memorial Hall/Lowell Hall Complex.
And while students had significant concerns with the space, Engel said the driving principle in Loker-reform was to incorporate student suggestions without compromising the original design.
"We didn't just want to throw money at the problem," he said.
Other food outlets-Kenny Rogers Roasters chicken and a brand-name hot dog vendor which have been mentioned as possible additions to Loker-may yet be brought in depending on the success of the current offerings, according to Associate Director of Dining Services Leonard D. Condenzio.
Virtually all of the food services that will be offered this fall will be ready this week.
"We felt that this was a pretty good offering to open up with," Condenzio said. "It's just a matter of space, of wondering if we have to add those other items or trade them out if the others aren't as successful. In order to keep the space interesting and inviting, you want to keep those other concepts on the shelf as needed."
Although the coffee shop remains relatively unchanged, the other vendors have been altered to facilitate self-service use. The service lines leading to cash registers at each of the outlets have been eliminated in favor of the system in place at the Greenhouse, where patrons can pick up food from a number of different vendors and pay at a central bank of registers.
Engel said he wants students to remember that there is more to Loker than food. Even though the space is heavily used for studying and meetings during the day, he said changes have been made to foster a more social atmosphere at night.
Some changes are obvious: cushy red leather couches now ring the small room at the entrance of the commons, and the television in the room is now equipped with cable. A full-sized pool table, donated by the Freshman Dean's Office, now sits at the opposite end of Loker, and additional computer kiosks will soon be installed.
All of these changes are also direct responses to suggestions from the student survey, as are the changes being made to the giant LED screen that runs across the top of the eateries.
Engel said that many students had complained of being disoriented, dizzied and confused by the long stream of multicolored graphics and student poetry that flowed constantly from one end of the commons to the other.
Now the LED will scroll vertically instead of horizontally, making it easier on the eyes, and it will automatically display entries from the College's new campus calendar. The large square LED screen at one end of the Commons will continue to be used for more artistic purposes, administrators said.
The overhead lighting will be dimmed at night to make a more relaxed atmosphere, Engel said.
"We want to make it a place where people feel like they can put their feet up and kick back," he said. A few areas feature new, couch-like seats to foster this casual atmosphere.
The concert and performance series that was implemented last semester will continue, and a new series of faculty readings and performances is slated to begin this semester.
Engel said he hopes the Commons will host more informal events as well. An extensive new sound system has been installed, and students are encouraged to host their own study breaks in the space.
"Food service may stop at 9[p.m.], but we want students to remember the Commons is open until 1:30 [a.m.]," Engel said. In special cases, Loker officials could arrange for later food service hours, he added.