Dark stairs soon to lighten

Denizens of the Smith Center subbasement have taken to calling their staircase, “the dark at the top of the stairs.”

For about a month, workers have been redesigning the staircase extending into the subbasement, transforming the staircase into a dark, somewhat forbidding tunnel. Meantime, workers in the subbasement including the Vanguard and other media have been forced to wait for the lone Smith Center elevator that descends to the subbasement. Another staircase provides an emergency exit to the subbasement.

The gloom of the passage soon will brighten up, according to Robert Wise, Smith Center building manager.

“It will be nice to have an open staircase, relit with different lighting,” Wise said. In its previous incarnation, the stairs required the pedestrian to make a pair of sharp turns to get onto the stairs. The new pattern, due to finish any day, will access the stairs through an open portal.

“The access is not really that different,” Smith said. “It will be an open stairwell with no door.” The previous stairwell had a door. It was usually left open although it was occasionally locked by mistake.

Smith Center has been undergoing extensive renovations that include rooms, passages and restrooms. In order to disturb the smallest number of people, many of the major renovations started after summer term ended. Construction in high-traffic areas has the highest priority for finishing in time for fall term classes, with various later deadlines for less visible projects.

Restrooms – long closed on the bottom three floors of Smith – will reopen soon. Restrooms on the main floor and the second floor will be finished by Friday of this week, Wise said.

“The basement bathrooms will take three or four weeks,” Wise said. “They will probably be finished about the end of October.” The basement bathrooms are being completely retired, while space formerly occupied by the Cohead Salon is being incorporated into the redesigned bathrooms, making them more consistent with Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

Along with the bathroom renovation, Smith Center is getting a new hallway to make the second floor more navigable. The meeting rooms on either side will be upgraded.

The former Portland Teachers Credit Union space in the Smith Center basement is being restructured. The audio-visual technical support service will occupy the space. AV Services had previously been sharing space with the Information Technologies help desk and other offices in the basement.

Moving the service out will make it more visible and accessible, Wise said. The old AV space is now an employee lounge.

Smith Center has been abuzz with construction and renovation during the summer vacation. Sodexho food service has drastically redesigned its food court space to provide more frontage for consumer traffic. This included a new open entranceway on the west side of the facility.

The University Market underwent a complete renovation, with completion scheduled by Sept. 26.

Smith Center is not the only facility getting face-lifts during the summer. The Meetro coffee shop in King Albert Hall has been completely re-carpeted and repainted. The mammoth new dining hall in the Ondine was scheduled to serve its first meals Sept. 19.