As a graduate student, Harvard College Dean Evelynn M. Hammonds often made the trip to what was then the Hilles Library to take advantage of the quiet space for undisturbed study.

On Wednesday night, Hammonds was back, to get a firsthand look at how renovations completed over the summer transformed the first floor of the Student Organization Center at Hilles (SOCH) into a social space complete with high-definition televisions, couches, pool and shuffleboard tables, and event and meeting space. Hammonds had ordered the upgrade last September.

“Dean Hammonds has been exceptional throughout this process, and has been instrumental in securing funding for student activity spaces.” Undergraduate Council President Danny Bicknell ’13

“I have always thought this was a great space, and when I became dean I made it a priority to make sure that this space again became a destination, not just for academics, but for the kind of social space that students continue to ask us for,” Hammonds said, just before cutting a ribbon to mark the official opening of SOCH. “I think this will be an incredibly valuable asset for students. I felt transformed just walking into the center, and I hope students will as well.”

Unveiled with a grand opening attended by students, administrators, and staff, the SOCH renovations mark the latest round of enhancements to undergraduate social spaces across campus. During the past year, the Mather Multimedia Lab, the Eliot Grille activity space, the Cabot Café, and the Quad Grille lounge in Pforzheimer House all saw improvements, including new lighting, flooring, seating, sound systems, and games.

Led by David R. Friedrich, assistant dean of Harvard College for student life, and overseen by Doug Walo, manager of the Student Organization Center at Hilles, the summer-long project to renovate the building’s first floor was the product of extensive meetings, discussions, and focus groups involving the Office of Student Life staff and undergraduates, and was aimed at completely transforming the space from what was once a library into “the College’s living room.”

The changes, Walo said, begin before students even set foot in the door.

A new courtyard area just outside the main entrance includes outdoor seating and a fire pit, while inside students will find pool and shuffleboard tables, 70- and 80-inch high-definition televisions, video games, new food and drink options, a party space — complete with a dance floor — that can accommodate nearly 500 people, and a meeting room, inspired by the Harvard Innovation Lab, outfitted with movable furniture.

“The goal here was to take a space that in many ways still looked and felt like a library, and that was somewhat uninviting to students, and transform it into something that is far more welcoming and warm,” Walo said. “I think students will find, when they walk in, this will immediately feel like a space [where] they can come in, sit down, hang out, and relax.”

Thousands of students have visited SOCH since the start of the new semester, with nearly all expressing excitement about the transformation.

“The renovations to this space will, and already have, enhanced all the student activities that will be held in the SOCH,” Undergraduate Council President Danny Bicknell ’13 said, in welcoming students to the grand opening event on Wednesday. “The success of this renovation largely reflects upon the leadership of the renovation team and their dedication to involving students in every step of the process. I also want to thank Dean Hammonds — she has been exceptional throughout this process, and has been instrumental in securing funding for student activity spaces.”

“I think student groups will be really excited about using this space,” said Haley Fuller ’14, who helped plan the Crimson Key Society Opening Days events in the center. “Besides the welcoming ‘living room’ area, there is a dance hall with awesome speakers and lights, and there is a conference room area that has movable tables and seats. It’s ideal for large-scale dances and conferences. There is a definite lack of communal social space at Harvard, but I think the SOCH is attempting to fill that void. I think there is definite potential in this space. Throughout Opening Days and after our event, I constantly heard freshmen talking about the SOCH.”

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