Club Capen overhaul : Heart of the Campus construction begins


The third floor of the Oscar Silverman Library, located in Capen Hall, has been exceptionally quiet this semester – even for a library.

The third floor, a part of what many students refer to as “Club Capen” in UB’s only 24-hour library, no longer holds a single book, computer, desk, chair or even a librarian. Students will need to find to a different place to study on the late nights during exam week this semester, as the third floor undergoes renovations for UB’s Heart of the Campus construction project.

UB officials plan on the space being livelier than it was before it was closed down in December.

The Heart of Campus is a UB 2020 intuitive to renovate all three UB campuses, including the third floor of the Silverman library on North Campus. The third floor of the Silverman Library is not expected to reopen until November. But there is not an estimate for how much the total project will cost, as it will have multiple phases of construction happening over an unknown amount of time, according to A. Scott Weber, senior vice provost for Academic Affairs

“We recognize it’s been awhile since we updated our library,” Weber said. “So we’re trying to upgrade our current library to be a more student-centric space for learning that recognizes the new way people learn today rather than sitting in the quiet library.”

The third floor officially closed on Dec. 16, 2014. Crews have been moving its furniture and collections to Lockwood Library and other areas of Capen since that time. Space designs will be finalized and demolition will be complete sometime in February. Construction is scheduled to begin in April. Construction will also be taking place in Talbert and Norton Halls.

Capen will not be open 24 hours a day during the construction period, with Lockwood replacing it as the campus’ only 24-hour library. H. Austin Booth, vice provost for University Libraries, said she has gotten “good feedback” from students about Lockwood serving as a 24-hour space.

Senior biology major Anokhi Patel often used the third floor of Capen as a place to study and was disappointed to learn it will be closed until at least next academic year. She said the renovations were a good idea, but is concerned it will lead to its replacement becoming crowded.

“I think Lockwood is going to be packed now,” Patel said. “It’s hard enough to find a table or assigned cubby.”

Booth said UB has tried to accommodate all spaces shut down on the third floor into other areas, such as moving furniture from the third floor to the open floors of Silverman Library for students’ use during construction. She also said a Cybrary has opened on the second floor.

The original plans for the Heart of the Campus construction were estimated to cost around $100 million. Weber said although it would be ideal to do all renovations at one time, UB does not have the funds in the capital budget to do so.

UB had to downsize its construction plans across all three campuses in November after hitting its spending cap for capital projects. The adjusted plan allocated $26.4 million for North Campus construction – with about $13 million of that going toward the Heart of the Campus project.

Weber said the downsizing will not affect the quality of the renovations or how it was originally envisioned, but it will affect the timing of when the project can be done.

“We’re approaching it with really a very similar approach as the original plan delivered in 2012, but now we’re looking at it as, ‘How do we phase it in the budgetary constraints that we have?’” he said. “As more [funds] become available, which we can’t predict with great certainty, we have a plan that will roll through the process to deliver it.”

Booth said the new Capen third floor will have state of the art classrooms and more power outlets for students. The new design includes opaque walls for openness and more natural lighting.

Booth also said the floor will be sectioned off into different “neighborhoods,” as some sections will be nosier and for discussion, while others will be quieter for study areas. Booth envisions students coming together for reasons other than just studying, such as a viewing party of a presidential debate or a slam poetry event.

The designs for the space were based in part on student surveys and focus groups, according to Booth. She said UB plans to hold more focus groups with students as the designs become finalized.

“I think we get to say to students, ‘We listened. This where we’re putting our limited resources.’ I’m really excited about that,” Booth said.

Weber said UB knows “from survey after survey” that students value the library and use the library as a common core for meeting and studying.

Renovations to Capen’s third floor and the Office of Accessibility Resources are considered “Phase One” of the Heart of the Campus project. The next phase is set to include a “one stop student experience” on the ground floor of Capen that will include library services and international admissions.

Weber said the project’s goal is to have one “consolidated and efficient and comfortable environment,” where students can receive assistance on different aspects of university life, such as parking, financial aid, academic advising and their dining cards as opposed to different offices for such services all over campus.

“We often have challenges our students face that get directed to a multitude of offices at different locations across the campus,” Weber said. “This is a recognition of that fact and a desire to bring a coordinated response to our students’ needs that can hopefully, mostly, be met at that first stop.”

Weber compared the one-stop student experience to an Apple store. He envisions students can access their online account on a tablet or kiosk, but will also have someone available to them for help. He said there would be a “flexible staffing approach” so staff could help students with all their different needs.

There is currently no timetable for construction on the one-stop experience.

“We believe it is going to happen, but we do not have a firm funding commitment,” Weber said.

A design for the project is currently being done, so if funds are secured, UB will be “ready to go” with construction, according to Weber.

The Heart of the Campus also includes renovations for South Campus and the downtown medical campus. Weber said there will be a virtual library on the medical campus, but there are currently no concrete plans on what the renovations for South Campus will be.

Booth said there will be some upgrades for Abbott Hall, South Campus’ Health Sciences library, but said it will be “modest” compared to the upgrades at Capen. Weber and Booth said renovations for South Campus are in the planning phase.

Weber joked he is excited that in his 32nd year at UB, he will no longer see the lime green carpeting of Capen’s third floor.

He remembers thinking it was outdated in 1983.