Powerhouse Opens Doors to Students
Issue   |   Wed, 09/10/2014 - 05:26
Matthew Chow
Students gathered at the Powerhouse this weekend to eat hors d’oeuvres and catch a first glimpse of the newly-renovated event space.

The Powerhouse officially opened its doors to the student community on Friday with an afternoon open house event. Hors d’oeuvres and ambient music accompanied a constant flow of students and other onlookers. Over 300 members of the Amherst community attended the event to observe the spacious, rugged building. On Saturday night, the Powerhouse put on an entirely different face with the Wings ’n’ Things Postgame, where students rushed through the supply of late-night snacks and the hall became a wide, colorfully lit dance floor.

This past weekend, the Powerhouse had the opportunity to show off its versatility, one of its most anticipated qualities, as well as inspire a wave of optimism about its future. “Now that we’ve set the tone with the kick-off weekend, things can only go up from here,” said Virginia Hassell ‘16, Senate member of the Powerhouse Committee.

The Powerhouse, originally built at the turn of the 20th century, and then abandoned for more efficient power sources in the 1960s, officially began renovation in early December, 2013.

Last spring semester, after lengthy discussions within the faculty, Chief Student Affairs Officer Suzanne Coffey approached AAS President George Tepe with the proposal to make the Powerhouse a student-run space. The first student engagements with the Powerhouse project began with a task force committee comprised of senators and a wide variety of at-large student members interested in using the building for specific interest groups. Over the summer, Tepe, along with senator Robert Kermes ’16, worked along with a temporary committee to solidify on-the-ground plans for the Powerhouse project.

“What we produced were a set of principles about running the Powerhouse, they were part of a 15-page report that we presented to Suzanne. That report included the first version of the idea that we saw come to life this weekend, which was the Wings n Things event. That was an idea that came out of that taskforce report, along with a series of other ideas that the current committee is going to start to look at,” Kermes said.

Discussions of the project quickly resumed at the beginning of the semester, with the new Dean of Students, Alex Vasquez, and Associate Director of Student Activities Leykia Brill arriving on board to work intimately with the Powerhouse Committee. The Committee held a Powerhouse Meeting on Tuesday, which was open to all members of the community. The discussions in the meeting brought another fresh batch of ideas, including suggestions for a 24-hour study space and a permanent café. The Committee is still working on finalizing long-term plans for the Powerhouse.

“Right now, we’re still trying to figure out what to do with it during the day, and during the week. Those things will be answered within this month, and then will be implemented after that first month,” said Barrett Kaminer ’16, an at-large member of the Committee.

Moreover, talks are ongoing on how the Powerhouse will coexist with Campus Police, concerning alcohol and parties.

“The current party policy will not function and be all that effective in the Powerhouse right now. That being said, we’re not saying that it’s going to completely disregard the party policy; however, there are talks about creating an entirely different party policy within the powerhouse. The administration is really all for it. The only thing I see as being an opposing challenge is that we have to remain in accordance with Massachusetts state law,” Kaminer said.

In the light of the intensive committee work, as well as the involvement of the student body at large, senator Hassell said,

“the Powerhouse is a student space, and so it’s a space that we can use to empower students. We can do with the Powerhouse whatever we want to do with the Powerhouse.”

The Office of Student Affairs is interested in using the project as a springboard to change the way that students interact with the administration, in terms of new ideas and ambitions.

“I want, at the end of this year, and at the end of every year, for the students to say — If I had a list of all of the decisions that were made this year, I want you to point to the decisions and say, ‘I had input in that,’” Vasquez said.

Members of the Office of Student Affairs expressed hopes that the project will be a fulcrum in starting to create a stronger relationship between students and the administration.

“I think the events that will happen at the Powerhouse will allow both students and administrators to see each other from a different perspective,” Brill said. “A lot of myths that you might have about what the administration believes, or what they want to support you in doing, will be dispelled, because you’ll see that when we work together to find things that we can support one another with, incredible things happen.”