Summers Grants Millions for Social Space

President’s Office allots money to build Loker pub, Lamont cafe

The Office of University President Lawrence H. Summers will provide millions of dollars to fund a slate of social space renovations—including a Loker Commons pub and Lamont Library café—the College announced Friday.

Although plans for many of the renovations had already been discussed, several, like the Loker Pub, had not received final approval until Friday’s announcement.

These plans were presented as part of a greater construction effort, which will span several years and renovate more than 57,000 square feet of space around the Yard. The complete plan includes renovations to Hilles Library, Loker Commons, and the basements of Canaday, Holworthy, and Thayer Halls, in addition to the construction of a café in Lamont Library.

Dean of the College Benedict H. Gross ’71 declined to comment on the exact cost of the project, but said that it would require “several million dollars.”

Money for the project will be drawn from the account of the University’s central administration, which controls roughly 11 percent of Harvard’s endowment and has fewer constraints for distributing funds throughout the University.

“It’s a substantial grant,” Gross said Friday. “It’s way more than I can come up with [in] the College budget.”

Project Manager of Loker Commons Planning and Program Development Zachary A Corker ’04 said yesterday that the College hoped to start Loker renovations this summer in order to finish the pub—a bartended student-gathering spot—by the start of the next academic year.

“The face of the pub must be students, and for that reason, we’ve formed a strategic partnership with Harvard Student Agencies,” Corker said yesterday. “They’re working with us to develop a system for operating the pub.”

Corker confirmed that the College had already hired an architectural firm for the pub’s construction, but declined to name it.

The renovation of the top three floors of Hilles will convert 50,000 square feet of library space into space for student group offices, social gatherings, and shared workspace, according to Gross.

This project has been in the works since Harvard College Libraries announced in fall 2003 that it would scale back its Hilles collections to fill a single floor of the five-story building.

Earlier this week, the College confirmed plans to move forward with a campus women’s center, which some had proposed placing in the new Hilles building. Gross said Friday that, although the College has not decided on the location of the women’s center, the additional room in Hilles will alleviate space constraints across the campus.

“With the addition of this space we finally have the chance to go ahead with [the women’s center] and start a search for a director,” Gross said.

The President’s grant will also allow for renovations of several Yard basements, and Campus Life Fellow Justin H. Haan ’05—the College’s “fun czar”— said the basement space would likely be prioritized for freshmen.

Haan said that this push comes from his study of past freshman surveys, which suggested that first-year residences needed more social space.

“Unlike the Houses, there is a real absence of that in the Yard,” he said.

Corker and Associate Dean of the College Judith H. Kidd said they hoped the expansion of student space would allow for more informal gatherings in Houses’ Junior Common Rooms, which are usually reserved for rehearsals and meetings.

“We also hope that these new spaces...will help Houses regain space designed for House life,” Kidd wrote in an e-mail.

According to Gross, the new space will force the College to reassess its policies for assigning space to student groups.

The announcement offers the first official timetable for construction of the Hilles project since the College released its Hilles/QRAC space committee report in summer 2004. Gross said he hopes that construction on Hilles and the Yard basements will begin this spring. A café would probably be installed in Lamont by the end of the 2006-2007 academic year, he added.

“That’s optimistic because it depends on the other construction projects in the University,” he said.

These projects include the construction of graduate student housing on Cowperthwaite street, the renovation of the Hasty Pudding Theatricals building, and the restoration of the exterior of Widener Library and Memorial Church.

The renovation plans announced on Friday are part of an administrative effort over the past several years to address on-campus social life—an oft-criticized aspect of the Harvard student experience.

Last March, the Boston Globe reported results from the College’s 2002 senior surveys showing that those seniors were dissatisfied with social life at Harvard. The College averaged a 2.62 rating for its campus social life, compared to an average rating of 2.89 at other schools, and netted a 2.53 for its sense of community, compared to 2.8 at other schools, the Globe reported.

“All the surveys show that we do well in the areas of residential and extracurricular life, and that we could do better in the areas of social life and academic experience,” Gross said Friday. “This has informed my priorities.”

—Staff writer Margaret W. Ho can be reached at mwho@fas.harvard.edu.

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