Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Photo by Jeff Fitlow

Rice’s graduate students have a new place to relax and socialize, thanks to a renovation adjacent to Keck Hall. The Graduate Student Outdoor Commons features picnic tables and benches; barbecue grills; an ADA-accessible stage; and improved access, pavers and pathways. Strings of festoon lights crisscross the parklike space, giving it a warm and inviting glow. The renovation, more than two years in planning, also addressed the quad’s poor drainage and propensity to flood, in effect reclaiming the live oak-shaded area for use.

“The grad students are really excited,” said Lynn Fahey, a doctoral student in sociology who headed up the Graduate Student Association (GSA) this past year. “This gives us greater visibility.” Fahey has worked to help bring the project to fruition on behalf of Rice’s 2,700 graduate students. The GSA will use the space for monthly picnics and special events. In February, for example, an international culture night sponsored by the GSA drew almost 1,000 attendees.

“We spent some time with the GSA learning what they wanted,” said Larry Vossler ’02, senior project manager with Rice’s Facilities Engineering and Planning office. One of the goals, he said, was to have better seating outside of Valhalla. Construction on the $680,000 project began last November, and the finishing touches are underway this spring. Andrew Albers ’99, a landscape architect (and RSA lecturer) with the Office of James Burnett, came up with the design. “Grad school is stressful,” said Fahey. “It’s nice to have a space dedicated to leisure and social interaction.”

Scene photo of the Graduate Student Outdoor Commons by Valhalla by Jeff Fitlow.