SCHENECTADY – Viewed as “a great equalizer” for SUNY Schenectady Community College students’ range of needs, the institution celebrated to fanfare the completion of its learning commons, a $10.1 million renovation and rebrand of the former Begley Library.
For students hoping to transition to four-year institutions, or enter the workforce from the community college, the refashioned facility spreads its tentacles beyond traditional library services.
The commons houses a cafe, group study rooms, a reading area, study rooms, and student collaborative spaces, while offering enhanced technology services.
A skeleton for study of the human anatomy stood in the far corner of the facility, still protected under plastic wrapping Tuesday.
The facility, which will be ready for students when they return to campus for in-person classes later this month, also encompasses academic support services, the school’s Educational Opportunity Program, and there’s a centralized information technology help desk for students, faculty and staff.
“This is really critical for our college, for the students, most importantly, to provide them with the 21st century kind of building, where they can gather, study, collaborate – and that’s true for our faculty as well,” campus president Steady Moono said. “It is a gathering place for them, where they will have the materials, they’ll be able to get together and do the teaching and the learning.”
Moono added: “We know that our students learn best when they’re able to collaborate with each other and collaborate with the faculty as well.”
The 30,000-square-foot facility was built in 1978 and hadn’t had a substantive renovation until now, college officials said.
“It was built for its time,” Moono said of the original library. “It didn’t have collaborative spaces. It was lacking technology. It was lacking meeting rooms, and it was lacking, really, the state of the 21st-century equipment and resources.”
He went on to call the building a great equalizer.
“If a student doesn’t have a laptop, doesn’t have access to technology, they can come here and within seconds be given a laptop and be able to connect. So it equalizes everyone because we know that some of our students struggle when they go home.”
Director of Library Services Jacquie Keleher noted the space’s natural lighting throughout, and functional furniture for student comfort, including stools that allow them to sit sideways and backward.
“It really gives students a place to be social learners,” Keleher said. “Studying and learning and college has changed so much. They can come in and they can still be with their classmates and friends and study and work.”
She added: “Students want to come to one place, study, but still be able to hang out with their friends, or grab something to eat, and just have everything that they need, and get a tutor if they need it, or get somebody to proofread that paper.”
But at the same time, the facility expands library services by giving the program its first dedicated space for archival materials, she said.
It will maintain an ample supply of magazines and newspapers, as well as its 50,000-title collection of books in the stacks.
Jeff Aranda, director of the Educational Opportunity Program, which is designed to help students who show academic promise by offering support services such as tutoring, financial aid, and academic coaching, among other help, said of the commons:
“I think it’s going to offer a great space for our students to come and do their work and have access to both the retention advisor and myself. Because the EOP program is based on a sense of community. This is going to allow us to do that, a lot more effectively than what we were before. I love the fact that it’s state of the art, and again, it just helps us serve our students so much better.”
Construction took about 18 months, according to Patrick Ryan, vice president of administration. It was completed in earnest last spring. Punch list items were finished since then.
There was a slight delay to construction at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
Some HVAC units were replaced but much of it was reused, said Ryan, adding the college is working on installing a cooling tower in the building.
During construction, library services were moved to temporary space in two classrooms in Elston Hall.