Coming soon: new common room for Uithof students

The temporary common room for students is going to be inaugurated next spring where De Vagant used to be. Photo: DUB (2016).

The new common room is going to be unveiled in a few months. Right now, a group dedicated to the project is assessing what they need to make sure it is a cozy, convivial place for all UU students, regardless of what they study. The name, look and feel of the space are also not set in stone yet. Is it going to be a trendy beach club or perhaps a sleek, modern place?

Eddie Verzendaal, Director of Real Estate & Campus, took the time to answer DUB’s questions about the new space. He told us that the idea is to have the common room operate for two to four years. That’s why they are soon going to ask the municipality for a licence.

Over the next few years, they are going to work on a permanent spot for future generations. They don't know where that is going to be yet. “But it is clear that the university does need such a space.”

Forming a bond with fellow students
Students have been asking for years for a place to have informal meetings. Spaces where students can gather are rather scattered in the Utrecht Science Park, and in the past few years the amount of spaces of this kind diminished even more. With the upward trend in the number of students enroled at UU, came the need to turn more and more rooms into educational spaces.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in the past two years, an increasing amount of students have been having a hard time forming a bond with their study programme and their fellow students. Several studies reveal that students are getting more isolated, and mental health issues have become more common.

Merel Dekker, student advisor to the Executive Board, was one of the driving forces behind the new common room. She hopes that students will soon have a place where “they can have lunch in between classes”. The place is also going to host activities organised by study associations. “Currently, these associations are often tied to the opening hours of the university’s buildings and the obligation to buy something from the catering services.”

Science and Geoscience students were the loudest voices calling for a common room for social activities. The study associations of these faculties used to gather at the wooden construction best known as De Vagant. But that was until four years ago, when renovation works at the Minnaert put an end to that era. Senior students look back with nostalgia to the days when they used to barbecue on the grass.

De Vagant was demolished after the renovation works were completed. The students who manifested their opposition to that decision were told that they could use the mezzanine above what was then Minnaert’s canteen. Since then, both of them have been turned into educational spaces. Even the faculty board of the Faculty of Science has joined the students in their call to reinstate De Vagant.

Merel Dekker: “Of course there should be enough spaces dedicated to educational activities, but it is also important to provide students with a convivial spot where they can gather and develop themselves personally. Now that the pandemic has prevented students from getting together in the small administration rooms, UU has opened the canteens for them. That is going well, but it is not enough.”

Shelved plans
When the Executive Board decided to demolish De Vagant four years ago, the announcement was accompanied by the promise to look for an alternative space to serve the same social purposes.

But it took a while for any news to come in that regard. Two years ago, shortly before the coronavirus crisis, the news broke that Uithof students would be getting a common room, to be located where the Earth Sciences building, currently being demolished, now stands.

But those plans have been shelved, says Verzendaal from Real Estate & Campus. A lot of construction works are expected in that area over the next few years. The Faculty of Science is considerably short of space. “Besides, that spot is completely out of the way for many students.”

This is what De Vagant used to look like. Photo: DUB.

No bar, but there will be a coffee machine
In order to offer something to Uithof students for the time being, the location where the old De Vagant used to be, in front of the Koningsberger building, is once again under the spotlight. After all, all the necessary apparatus is still there.

“Except that, this time, it should be a meeting point for all students, not just the ones from the faculties of Science and Geosciences”, stresses Verzendaal. He hopes that the study associations will join forces in using and managing the space. The team dedicated to the project has to come up with a way to organise this.

According to Verzendaal, the idea is not to set up a bar there, where alcohol would be sold (“but there will be a coffee machine”), neither do they intend the space to be a party spot. But drinks and gatherings during the evening are among the activities envisioned.

The new common room is being paid for with funds from the National Education Programme (the so-called NPO funds), set aside by the Dutch government for universities. Part of the funds are supposed to be spent on activities promoting the students’ wellbeing. Last month, UU unveiled a document showing how it intends to spend these funds.

Now, let's just hope that the pandemic doesn’t keep us from meeting each other in person next spring.

Parnassos Café and Kruyt canteen now also meeting spaces for study associations
UU decided to make canteens available for students to meet, since the measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus have left study associations without a place to receive their members. But the news offered little solace to the associations of the Faculty of Science, since the Minnaert canteen has been transformed into an educational space.

Hence the decision to also make a meeting point out of the canteen inside the Kruyt building, although the initial plan was to also turn it into a classroom. Study associations can now make appointments with their members there.

But that’s not all. From this month on, study associations can reserve a spot in the morning or afternoon at the café inside the Parnassos cultural centre, located on Kruistraat street, in the city centre. The space can receive a total of 50 students, and coffee and tea are free of charge. However, a Covid pass (QR code) is required to get inside.

This isn’t just a makeshift meeting point because of the pandemic, though. It was the idea all along to set up Parnassos’ CultUUr café as an informal meeting space for students, which is why the NPO funds are being used for this. Because of the current coronavirus situation, new rules have been established for the use of the café.

Students are welcome at the café next year as well, but that is going to depend on the Covid rules in force by then.