by Jake Altinger

September 1st marked the official Grand Opening of the new Learning Commons at the Centennial Campus, complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and free cake for attendees. The event kicked off at 10 a.m. last Friday morning with a brief speech by Vice President of Administrative Services and CFO Brenda Lauer, thanking everyone who made the five-year, ten-million-dollar project possible. Several short rounds of applause went out from the small crowd of faculty and students to several PPCC Task Force leaders, general contractor iCON, Inc., and architecture and engineering firm Page Southerland, Inc.,

Dean Patrice Whitley, director of the Learning Commons, spoke briefly and enthusiastically about the potential she saw in the Commons to serve PPCC students and the community. Dr. Whitley and Vice President Lauer used the giant gold scissors to cut the shiny, blue ribbon, which fluttered to the floor with a final burst of camera flashes and applause.

The layout of the new Learning Commons is open, covering a total 16,000 square feet, excluding the upstairs Computer Lab. The $10 million price is for the entire Aspen Remodel Project, which included both the Commons and Enrollment Services on the floor below. The Aspen Remodel is the largest capital remodel project PPCC has taken to date.

Three paintings intended to embody the spirits of diversity and scholarship welcome visitors to the Commons in a small lounge area near the entryway. The buzzing, central hub of the Learning Commons is the Knowledge Market – a handful of small workstations between the Information Desk and Reference Center on one side and a bank of twelve computers on the other. This is where students can link up with tutors, access EBSCO and other research databases, check the PPCC Lib Guides to see what is happening on campus, and much more.

Beyond the spiral staircase in the center of the Learning Commons, the Knowledge Market is located with a sun-lit lounge area, where two-story windows along the west and north walls provide a panoramic view of Cheyenne Mountain and downtown Colorado Springs. In the lounge area are few more workstations and several armchairs, some of which have built-in power outlets and USB ports. All of the furniture in the lounge area is on sliders, and students are encouraged to rearrange it however they like.

Upstairs is exclusively the computer lab. Up here, a glass wall sections off twenty Macs and fourteen HP desktops in “the Fishbowl.” One hundred and sixteen computers fill out the rest of the lab, including twenty-nine set aside in the “quiet room” near the back. That makes for 150 computers in the lab and a total of 210 throughout the entire Learning Commons.

Downstairs a total of thirteen private study rooms can be reserved at the Information Desk. Seven of these are equipped with 48-inch smart-TVs and four stations where students can connect their laptops to the screen, each with a power outlet and audio, HDMI, and RGB/VGA cables. These spaces will be especially useful for students working on group projects or rehearsing presentations. A touchscreen pad by the door allows students to view when that room is reserved or available.

Dr. Whitley said accessibility and inclusivity were paramount in designing the Learning Commons. Aside from a few tall desks in the lounge area, all of the furniture is handicap-accessible. Also, all of the workstations throughout the Commons have small caddies stocked with pens, pencils, scrap paper, and sticky notes.

Dr. Whitley tells students, “Some people don’t have pencils and pens and different resources, which can become an academic barrier, so we wanted to make sure that those things were provided for them,”

Much of the design concepts came from the PPCC students themselves. The artwork displayed near the entrance was created by PPCC art students Janessa M. Anderson and Chloe-Nicole Trujillo as part of an advanced painting Service-Learning project led by professor Laura Ben-Amots. Last January, the design team surveyed students on the design aspects they would like to see in the Commons. Prototypes of the furniture along with fabric options were brought in for students to sample. Dr. Whitley said the wide armchairs with power outlets and USB ports in the lounge area were the students’ number one pick.

Some faculty and staff mourn the reduction of the book stacks and there are already grumblings that the Learning Commons needs to offer more tutoring hours to keep pace with a student population that wants to use it.