As Simpson College students returned for the second semester, many did a double-take when they visited Dirlam Lounge.
“Everyone stops and stands there at the door and they stare a little,” says JoAnna Freeland, 19, a junior from Panora who serves as a senator in the Student Government Association.
What the students are witnessing is a transformation. The lounge, in Smith Chapel, has received a face-lift.
There’s new furniture. There’s also a new coffee and beverage service area for Holy Grounds Coffee Shop, including a new espresso machine. A wood floor has replaced old carpet. There’s track lighting on the ceiling and fresh paint on the walls.
“Essentially, we just modernized Dirlam Lounge,” says Joe Sorenson, 22, a senior from Maxwell and the Simpson student body president. “It turned out great.”
But Freeland and Sorenson are excited for another reason:
“I think the cool thing is that this is a student-initiated project,” Sorenson says. “It was planned by students and driven by students. There hasn’t been anything like this done for awhile at Simpson that was student-driven.”
In September, Simpson’s student government received some unexpected and welcome news. About $60,000 was being returned to the organization, representing unspent reserve funds.
“We were really committed to using this for good opportunities,” said Sorenson, who is majoring in economics/finance and applied philosophy.
The SGA’s executive council – consisting of Sorenson, vice president Paul Salais and two advisors – met to discuss potential projects for the money.
They didn’t have to look far.
“We were actually sitting in this Lounge and looked around and thought it could use a little updating,” Sorenson said.
The SGA has invested $27,500 in the Dirlam Lounge improvements. The administration agreed to pay for a new ceiling, with insulation. The Religious Life Council agreed to contribute some money as well.
“I think it shows that students and faculty and the administration can really work together,” Sorenson said.
Freeland agreed, saying at many colleges the administration makes a decision and the student government backs them. “Whereas here at Simpson, I think that if there’s something a lot of students care about, they can get people together and get things done,” she said.
“If students want something, you’re going to hear about it, which I think is awesome.”
Chaplain Fritz Wehrenberg said, “The student leadership of this project was critical – it would not have happened without the students in SGA and RLC providing the vision and the moxie to see it through. They did a great job.
“I find the room much more inviting, warmer. The color scheme, the new lighting, and the new flooring – as well as the relocation of the coffee area – creates a space that says” “Come on in, make yourself at home.”
The SGA had another goal. They wanted to get the lounge improvements started and finished over the holiday break, so students would not lose the space while classes were in session.
Which explains why so many students were surprised when they returned to campus.
The old coffee cart, with its tent-like awning, has been transformed into a counter. “They changed it so much you can’t even tell it’s the same cart,” Freeland said.
Circular-shaped tables have been replaced by square-topped tables, which makes them easier to fit together for meetings.
The colors are warmer. The wall above the fireplace was painted purple. “We’ve had several people ask, ‘When did you guys put the fireplace in?’” Freeland asks. “They didn’t realize it had been here for that long.”
Meredith McCay, 21, a junior from Waukee who manages Holy Grounds Coffee Shop, said the students have given the renovations a rave review.
“I think the changes have turned out fabulously and the space is starting to live up to its full potential,” she said. “I have had people say that they have spent more time in Dirlam in the last two weeks than in the two years they have been at Simpson because the space is so much more welcoming now.”
The result? “Business is great and the people who were buying drinks before are now staying longer and hanging out with people or studying,” McCay said. “It’s been very exciting watching the whole thing develop.”
At first, she said, administration officials were wary about the changes. “However, we had several meetings and talked things through, and when we realized everyone was dedicated to making the space as functional as possible, we got together to make something that can truly be used well,” she said.
Sorenson said the goal was to create a relaxed environment on the southeast side of campus that will complement the busy Kent Student Center, which is expected to open this fall on the northwest side.
“The radio station has already booked a concert in here at the end of the month,” he said. “People are going to use it. I’ve gotten a lot of great feedback.”
Freeland counts herself among those students who had to look twice to make sure she was in the same place.
“I walked in here and said, ‘Oh my gosh, this is just want we wanted,’” she said. “We’re really excited.”