Committee Outlines Hilles Conversion

An August report by the QRAC/Hilles Space Committee put forth an official recommendation for converting 50,000 square feet of Hilles Library into student space.

The report said the space should not be devoted to any single group and should be overseen by a facilities manager.

“We’re not recommending a table tennis room, we want a room that can be used by table tennis, martial arts, dance and more,” said Patricia O’Brien, deputy dean of the College and chair of the committee.

This project comes as Harvard’s latest attempt to launch a student center in Cambridge.

O’Brien said the recommendation for an on-site director came from looking at student centers at Columbia, Princeton, Rice, Smith and Yale.

She said student centers without directors were plagued by programming problems.

In addition to the space-sharing strategy, the report made nuts-and-bolts suggestions such as supplying phone banks for phone-a-thons, as well as providing computers, fax machines, photocopiers and printers for student groups.

The report also asks for a social space that could serve food and even mentions the possibility of a student-run pub.

But the College is unlikely to use the recommendation for a social space with food, said Thomas H. Dingman ’67, associate dean of the College.

“Our experience in Loker wasn’t very successful,” Dingman said. “But it’s an idea that’s still out there.”

Also requested in the report are music practice rooms, dance studios, performance venues and athletic space, which could host table tennis, martial arts, yoga and Pilates.

The Radcliffe Union of Students’s (RUS) proposal to include a women’s center was endorsed by 13 other student organizations, but was not specifically endorsed by the committee in the report.

Though the committee did not endorse the women’s center, the report said that anyone implementing the recommendations should consider RUS’s proposal, which were attached as an appendix.

O’Brien said it would have been beyond the power of the committee to recommend a space exclusively for specific groups.

“The Dean [of the College] decides if a women’s center is a good thing to endorse, it’s not a decision the committee is authorized to make,” O’Brien said.

The report raised other issues for consideration in the future: more room for Social Studies offices; a need for an overall audit of student office space on campus; and coordinating the renovations with those of the Malkin Athletic Center and Loker Commons to avoid duplicity.

The most pressing concern is the finding of a 2001 report that the infrastructure of the Hilles building is in desperate need of repair. A private firm estimated that the building required a minimum of $7.26 million dollars in repairs. This cost may reduce the funds available for converting the space for student use, Dingman said.

“I think the building infrastructure needs will have to be analyzed carefully and they will have to be addressed.” said Dingman. “It is likely that that will limit what is done on the program side, but if we are creative we can achieve both.”

Work has already begun on selecting members for a new committee to discuss implementation of the recommendations which will likely be formed in October, O’Brien said.

But both Kidd and O’Brien said that they had not heard any feedback about the report.

“I don’t think the report has been widely distributed yet, and I’m hoping to hear more once the report is distributed” O’Brien said.

—Staff writer Joshua P. Rogers can be reached at jprogers@fas.harvard.edu