By Christian Rosario / Editor-In-Chief
Ever since State Senator Ray Bateman sponsored legislation that established New Jersey’s county-based community college system in 1962, Raritan Valley Community College has proven to offer the same quality education as state universities, but at a portion of the cost. As a result, the school has grown rapidly. In the last 5 years enrollment has increased by 25%. To accommodate the growth, new facilities such as the West Building, Academic Support Center and cafeteria were built and have become some of the most frequently visited areas on campus.
Despite this construction, students at RVCC are still faced with a problem that the facilities do not address. Recent graduates are having trouble finding jobs because employers are becoming more selective and good GPAs are not the first thing they look for. According to the Job Outlook 2014 survey by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, the most important skill for a candidate is not what they know, but how they work as part of a team.
The construction of The Ray Bateman Center for Student Life and Leadership is RVCC’s effort to provide the tools necessary to prepare students for jobs. RVCC will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the student center on February 5. Located at the North West entrance in front of parking lots 4 and 5, the student center bridges the College Center, Gym and Whitman Science Center, forming a section on campus focused on student life.
While the library and lounges provide areas for students to work together, they face two of the big problems presented by a growing campus, both of which are addressed by the student center. The first: as enrollment increases less space is available. Every semester requires student groups to look harder for work space. If they are lucky enough to find it, they encounter the second challenge: noise.
“We need areas where students can come together and make noise when they work,” said Ronnie Weyl, RVCC Foundation Director. “If several students are working on a joint project and they’re engaged in a conversation and problem solving, there’s really not a place to do that in the library. This is an opportunity to promote team building.”
The first floor of the student center, accessed through either the Gym or its outdoor plaza, features a two-story atrium and an office area, separated by a glass wall. The office area contains seating, a greeting desk, a shared room for Student Government and Phi Theta Kappa, Student Life offices and three student club/organization rooms, which student leaders can reserve for meetings. Student leaders can store items for their club or organization in a secured area in the basement.
The atrium contains RVCC’s first green wall. Twelve different species of plants grow on the wall and are nourished by a rainwater capturing system, where rain flows from the roof, to a 4,000 gallon tank sitting in the basement, to a series of pipes delivering it to the green wall. The wall is 9 feet wide by 15 feet high and every three feet there is a vertical drip irrigation line. Every level of the line supplies water and nourishment to the vegetation. Kevin and Eileen Kelly of Kelly Mac Interiorspaces in Pittstown, NJ chose and planted the vegetation.
The second floor networking area faces the green wall from a balcony. On the balcony side are large wooden seats that reduce conversational noise. On the window side are earth-toned tables and chairs. Against the eastern wall is a reading room. The flooring is durable and made of natural bamboo. Seating is provided both inside the building and outside on the second floor deck.
Energy efficiency, locally sourced bricks, the rain water capturing system, renewable flooring materials, the harvesting of daylight and recycling of construction debris earned the building a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification. This is the second highest rating for the construction of green buildings from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Upon entering the building it’s easy to see why it earned LEED Gold, as natural light from skylights above the green wall and through the large windows on the north side fills every room. The architect, Fletcher Thompson, worked with the construction company Niram Inc. to achieve this rating. He also worked on RVCC’s Whitman Science Center and projects at Brookdale, Sussex, and Middlesex Community Colleges.
Because fixed spaces often define how people interact, Thompson designed the student center to accommodate movable furniture in the office area and reading room. By having wheels, the furniture can be arranged to fit the needs of different types of groups. For example, a small group may have one person speaking at a time. A horseshoe formation allows everybody to face the speaker. For a larger group, the furniture can be moved further apart to provide more personal space.
Some students agree that the student center is a much needed addition to the campus, but still have some concerns about how it will function. “Once in a while I can find space in the library lounge to do group work, but I usually have to keep my voice down. I’m looking forward to having an area where I can speak naturally,” said Jack Yaun, president of the RVCC Rotaract Club. “My concern though is the hours that it will be open. Can we still use it on weekends, and what time will it close? “
“We will make as much of the building accessible as possible with consideration for student safety” said Russell Barefoot, Director of Student Life, in response to Yaun’s concerns.
Due to lack of funds, the third floor, originally intended as a conference room, is incomplete and will not be usable with the rest of the building upon opening. $300,000 are still needed to complete it. But this may be a good thing because the way students use the rest of the building will influence how the third floor will be designed. This will be an experiment, said Barefoot. An idea for the third floor can be implemented that wasn’t thought of during its construction.
None of this would have been possible without the support of former State Senator Ray Bateman, for whom the student center is named. On December 2010, the Capital Campaign opened with a gala in his honor and was the campaign’s biggest fundraising event. Bateman helped persuade the Hunterdon and Somerset Boards of Chosen Freeholders to lend $2.75 million to the construction of the student center, which the Capital Campaign has almost completely paid back through private grants. This is half of the building’s $5.8 million cost. A dedication wall recognizing donors will be placed by the Gym entrance.
Students and faculty also contributed money to the student center. The faculty took a temporary deduction from their paychecks and students contributed to the Every ONE Counts campaign, where proceeds go toward the Capital Campaign. “My thought was that we have 8,400 students, and if each of them raised a dollar, we would have 8,400 dollars,” said Weyl. They have reached their $25,000 goal through gifts from faculty, staff and the community. Students raised 10% of the goal.
The Every ONE Counts campaign started in July of 2013 and is planned to last until June 30, 2014. Past events included bake sales, Charity Basketball, Halloween Bash and Benefit, Potluck Holiday Dinner, Multicultural Fashion Show, and Global Game Jam, all hosted by student clubs and organizations. Future events are the Phi Theta Kappa Comedy Show and an alumni homecoming. The first part of the homecoming will be an alumni reception. The second will be a dance that students are invited to. They can make a pledge to dance with somebody and proceeds will go toward further improvements to the student center.