Columbia College reveals new commons

The center will house a bookstore, café and student offices, among other things.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:00 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 10, 2008

With its tall glass windows and metal accents, the Atkins-Holman Student Commons at Columbia College looks more like a trendy shopping center than an academic building. But the new structure is about more than form. It brings together several offices that had previously been scattered across the college.

“It’s a lot easier than having to walk all the way to the other end of campus,” sophomore Rachell Ramirez said while shopping for textbooks.

The two-story, 24,000-square-foot commons, Columbia College’s first new building in nine years, brings the campus bookstore, student health services and career services into a single location. It is also home to student government and the office of campus life, which had been spread across three locations. The new facility will be used for about 4,200 students.

“I think it’s great because we have a lot more space,” said Ashton Huey, a junior who works in the bookstore. “It’s a lot more up-to-date-looking, and it’s a lot easier for customers to find.”

The commons includes the Cougar Café, the school’s first snack bar. Previously, the school’s cafeteria was the only on-campus dining option for students.

“We had no coffee shop or café before this,” said Bob Hutton, director of plant and facility operations. “We had nothing. If the cafeteria was closed, we had no type of food service or even a place to get a cup of coffee.”

The building also provides several other services previously unavailable to students. Surrounding the offices are lounges for studying and a recreational area on the second floor will include a big-screen television and a pool table.

“Our students really have had nowhere on campus where they could congregate, lounge, study, and spend time between classes,” said Faye Burchard, dean of campus life. “The old facility truly had 16 seats in it.”

Ramirez said having a job makes her less likely to frequently use the commons, but she still plans to use the facility when she has time.

“I suppose if I come early, I’ll come here to hang out,” she said.

Hutton said the new commons will become the center of campus activity. “Students can come to one spot for all of those needs, whether they are career services or the nurse or the counselor or to talk with the assistant dean of residential life,” Hutton said. “It just becomes a central hub because it’s right in the center of campus, next to the library and the computer labs.”

Construction crews still are adding some last-minute touches, but Hutton said everything should be completed by the time school opens Monday. The commons will be dedicated Oct. 9 during the school’s parents’ day and homecoming.

The $4.1 million commons is named after the parents of Tom and Linda Atkins, who provided the initial gift of $600,000. The Mabee Foundation of Tulsa, Okla., donated a $1.2 million challenge grant, which was matched by $1.4 million in smaller donations.

Other major contributors include Al and Mary Agnes Starr McQuinn, who agreed to match up to $300,000 worth of donations to the project given through September. Hutton said he is confident the college will reach that amount by the deadline.

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