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LeagueTLC IT Professional Column
Exploring Issues, Innovations, and New Developments with Information Technology Professionals

Hard Drive Café and Learning Support Center 
Clearwater Campus
St. Petersburg Junior College, FL

By: Steven Lee Johnson
Sinclair Community College

Provost/Clearwater Campus
St. Petersburg Junior College

Purpose: In the interest of providing comfortable and highly functional high-touch and high-tech student support services on an extended evening and weekend schedule, the Clearwater Campus of St. Petersburg Junior College created a multi-room student café and computer lab facility within a newly renovated building. The Hard Drive Café was developed in response to the lack of capacity in open computer lab facilities; the lack of a stylish, contemporary, and casual meeting area; and the lack of centrally located food services with an appealing atmosphere and menu. In addition, a Learning Support Center facility was designed to create a learning support space that will attract and impress students.

Description: The newly renovated building is a multi-function specialized facility providing (a) a 100 station open computer lab supporting all instructional programs, (b) a deli and lounge with 55 capacity inside seating and 48 capacity sidewalk café-style seating, (c) academic tutoring for numerous disciplines, (d) a career counseling center, and (e) a Sylvan Prometrics Testing Center for business/industry certificate testing. The Café was placed in a central campus location and attached to the Learning Support Center.

The Hard Drive Café features deli food and beverages in a stylish coffee shop atmosphere, while providing open-use desktop computers, network connections, and phone lines at each booth. The Café also provides counters and tables for laptop computer use. Initial concerns and objections over the perceived cost and risk of placing technology equipment near food and drink were overcome as materials and fixtures were selected to be both attractive and economical, and it was realized that replacing a keyboard would be relatively inexpensive. 

Adjacent to the Hard Drive Café is the Learning Support Center—a 100-computer open use lab with academic discipline-tutoring stations. Under a twenty-foot ceiling that fosters a feeling of spaciousness, computer stations are clustered in groups of seven, with each station having ample space for books and materials. Tutors are available to students whenever the lab is open, and their desks are situated in approachable, easily accessible spaces. Private study and tutoring rooms are also available. The Learning Support Center has tripled the number of computers available for student use and has added dozens of software titles to support campus instruction. A previously operating career counseling center was integrated into the Learning Support Center, as was the Sylvan Prometrics Testing Center. The collegewide security dispatch center was positioned at the entry area of the Learning Support Center to provide staffing assistance and security. The Hard Drive Café and Learning Support Center total approximately 10,000 square feet of floor space centrally located within the 40,000 square foot classroom building, with an additional 3,000 square feet of outdoor café seating under a covered porch. The total renovation, furniture, and equipment cost of the 40,000 square foot building approached $5.5 million dollars, with the Hard Drive Café and Learning Support Center costing an estimated one-fifth of that total. Cost constraints were a factor, yet the goals of improving student services and future proofing the technological infrastructure were never lost in cost cutting efforts. In the case of the Hard Drive Café, a special architect and interior design team experienced in building public facilities, especially restaurants, was used. 

Benefits/Impact: The full impact of this multimillion-dollar initiative is still being assessed and realized. Students at the Clearwater campus now have an open computer lab available to them seven days a week. Additionally, the Learning Support Center provides software and other technology that supports every instructional discipline at the Clearwater campus and many that are unique to sister SPJC campuses. Student use of the Learning Support Center is up approximately 250% over that of the previous lab. 

The Hard Drive Café is the gem of the campus—a stylish contemporary place to meet, great, and eat while using computers. With the Hard Drive Café, students now have a central lounge, a comfortable deli, an improved menu, and a large area of covered outdoor seating. The café is integral to the overall support services and learning environment of the campus, providing high-touch to the high-tech environment.



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