Augustana College students had no trouble breaking in the newly unveiled Center of Student Life during the first day of classes on Monday.
Some students on the main floor of the Thomas Tredway Library hooked their laptops into large, flat-screen TVs to better see what they were doing.
On the fourth floor, students grabbed coffee at the newly remodeled Brew by the Slough and settled in at one of the numerous tables or comfy chairs to get in some study time.
On the newly remodeled fifth floor, more than 1,000 hungry students checked out the expanded dining room that featured everything from salads and deli sandwiches to pasta and vegetarian entrees.
The $21 million center officially opened this month after 18 months of construction that consolidated the existing library from five to three floors and added 35,000 square feet of space for student services and a dining room.
The center is a one-of-a-kind building that is an “intentional connection” of the library, dining and student services that are “so symbolic of the residential liberal arts college experience," said W. Kent Barnds, vice president of enrollment, communications and planning of the Rock Island college, which was established in 1860.
“To have the imagination of putting these three aspects of what happens in a student’s life during their four years on a college campus together, I think really stands out among colleges like ours and colleges across the nation,” Barnds said.
The project, which broke ground in March 2012, was funded through donations.
The newly remodeled building, dubbed the campus’ Main Street, houses the library, dining services, office of the student life and leadership, office of intercultural student life, office of international student life and the reading and writing center.
The center also features a computer lab, private and group study rooms, a digital game room and a multipurpose room that has the capacity to seat 700 people.
Students can find a seat next to a three-story gas fireplace. An outdoor patio still is under construction and could be finished in the next month, Barnds said.
And the view is nice, too. From the large windows on the fourth floor, students can get a view of the campus' Old Main, which also has been renovated.
The dining room, which has seating for 750 people, makes up the fifth floor of the building and features several different food stations. By 3 p.m. Monday, 600 slices of pizza alone had been sold, said Garry Griffith, director of dining services.
“I came in here with a big smile on my face,” Griffith said. “Seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces and the way they are responding to the new place … I couldn’t be any happier.”
The food served to students is largely local. For example, the college gets its beef from Thurshwood Farms Quality Meats in Galesburg, Griffith said.
Griffith said buying local is important to the college because it keeps dollars in the Quad-Cities and supports local producers and growers.
Keeping in that spirit, the dining hall also features a hydroponics wall to allow students to grow herbs that will be used for cooking in the dining hall, Griffith said.
Tredway library director Carla Tracy said the library had to be rearranged to accommodate the new center.
The remodeled first floor features a large room used to house the college’s special collections of rare or unique books and documents. The room now can accommodate whole classes and features a document camera that can hook into a large, flat-screen TV, Tracy said.
New automated bookshelves, which move at the touch of a button, provide more space than before, Tracy said. New furniture also was put on the second and third floors of the library.
Tracy said the library usually has a lot of traffic, so it was hard to say whether the new center has attracted more patrons.
“I think people are just kind of getting their bearings today,” she said. “I think it’s going to go up.”
The college plans to hold a special celebration in the center Sept. 14.
The center is not the only major project that has been or is nearing completion. The college also completed a two-year, $14 million restoration of the interior and exterior of Old Main, which will be dedicated during Augustana's homecoming weekend in October.
Construction on the $10 million Austin E. Knowlton Outdoor Athletic Complex and the Charles D. Lindberg Stadium at Ericson Field is near completion and the college plans to dedicate it Sept. 7.