Smith basement: Who goes there?

While the tug-of-war among groups and offices arguing for more space, better space or different space rages in the upper floors of Smith Memorial Student Union, the basement remains quiet, almost a corridor of memories.

A year ago, the Smith basement teemed with noise and activity. Now a nearly eerie echo resounds along some of the vacant walls. But a larger plan is being considered, one that could transform the empty spaces into a magnet for students.

"More lounge space," predicted John Eckman, associate director of facilities. "We need lounges and things. Students just need someplace to hang out."

Not that the basement is all dead space now. The bowling lanes have been renovated and fitted with some fancy lighting effects that make it more suited to contemporary tastes. Business has been growing in the lanes, both in open play and in reserved parties.

There are now eight pool tables, which stay reasonably busy. An arcade room also remains, although greatly reduced from the old days.

Yet the overall impression is one of emptiness. Food for Thought Caf퀌� still operates with busy hours and dormant hours. The Women’s Resource Center, once at the south end of the floor, is now moved to the basement of Montgomery Hall.

The former Cohead Hair Salon became totally vacated before this academic year began. A small nook, which in past years housed a microwave oven, now remains vacant except for some vending machines. Rooms 46, 46A and 47 are now totally vacant, leaving a large open space near the north end.

Some of the basement space was occupied temporarily by various contractors working on SMSU. The large Room 47, which formerly housed the Legal and Mediation Services, is long gone. At the extreme north end is the Portland Teachers Credit Union space, which once had live attendants but in recent years has retreated into an almost-silent self-service area.

But despair not, Eckman said. When the Smith Center advisory board, headed by Nicole Browning, gets through the current struggles over how space is to be allocated in SMSU to the present contenders, the hollow basement will come in for renewed attention.

"It won’t be some strip mall," Eckman said. The entire basement might be redesigned to follow a consistent plan. It may even be invested with a harmonious theme and be called something like The Smith Underground.

"We may be able to couple more services with more lounge space," he concluded.

Some of the space is already ticketed for reconstruction. Parts of the old Cohead space will be used to add rest room stalls for handicapped access. Space will be cut out behind both the men’s and women’s rest rooms to add the stalls. These are renovations designed to better accommodate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Eckman considers the bowling renovations to have been a wise decision.

"I’ve been pretty impressed by the increase in business," he said. "We’ve been seeing from the beginning of January to the first week in February, 5 percent a week more business, five weeks in a row." Since then, he said, things have slowed down some. But there is now a bowling club and academic bowling classes are continuing. Residence halls are scheduling more bowling events.

"We’re getting more and more drop-ins," he said.

Robert Wise, SMSU building manager, recalled the changing tastes that influenced the renovation of the basement game room. As video games became more and more available through personal computers, the games in the game room were being used less and less.

"There was a decline for a few years for the arcade games," he said, when people started using their own X-Box rather than feeding the arcade games.

As a result, arcade games have been reduced from the previous 25 to the present 12. The pool table room formerly had seven tables, it now has eight, with the tables better arranged for a more comfortable experience.

"The space is more friendly, more inviting," Wise commented.

Eckman saw the basement in the process of what he would consider an understandable transition.

"It’s been 15 years since the last remodel," he said, indicating that 15 years could be considered a normal interval after which remodels become desirable.