September 9, 2003

Straight Pool Hall on Hiatus

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The Straight’s game room, a pool hall that has operated above the building’s main lobby since 1925, may soon become part of Cornell’s past. The game room is currently closed, and the S.A. will soon hear proposals to turn the room toward other uses.

According to Kent Hubbell ’67, the Robert W. and Elizabeth C. Staley Dean of Students, the game room has been put on hiatus because it was too expensive to operate.

“Staffing it was getting to be an expense that wasn’t even beginning to cover the revenue that was coming in,” he said. “We get a lot of competition from North and from West [Campus game rooms, managed by Campus Life]. Nobody was using the game room and the lack of revenue prompted the Associate Dean for Business to close it.”

Hubbell described several possible new uses for the room, including as a space for events and meetings, or as a Kinko’s copy center with some space reserved for other uses.

Students from the Cornell University Billiards Club (CUBC) are fighting to keep the pool hall open, saying it is part of the Straight’s history and the best place to play pool on campus. Jaime Barrera grad, CUBC Treasurer and leader of the club’s effort to protect the game room, said his organization has met Monday through Friday nights at the Straight for the past two years.

“This semester we’re forced to use RPCC, where the rates are higher,” he said — a regular fee of $5 per hour, compared to $3.75 when the Straight game room was open. “There is no other place in Ithaca to play except bars,” he added, noting that the downtown pool hall Rack-N-Roll recently closed as well.

S.A. is slated to discuss the issue on Sept. 18. Although the Office of the Dean of Students will ultimately determine the future of the room, Hubbell stressed that he wants students to have a voice in the decision. “We don’t have any desire to act unilaterally on these issues,” he said. “We continuously solicit how the building is being used, from both the S.A., the A-Board [the student Willard Straight Hall (WSH) Administrative Board] and other student organizations.”

Hubbell said WSH Building Services Manager Linda Reynolds will present his office’s views at the S.A. meeting. CUBC representatives also hope to attend, according to Barrera.

“We’re going to also try to get on the docket to get heard, so we can present our side of the story,” Barrera said. Although the club is not yet officially on the agenda, Barrera said the S.A. seemed receptive to the idea.

Club members have prepared a survey about the future of the game room, and are canvassing students on campus in hopes of garnering support for their position.

Hubbell said he welcomes the club’s involvement. “I think it’s good to have a conversation about [the game room] — is Kinko’s the best use of the space?” he asked. “At this point it’s strictly a proposal … we will go forward based on strictly how the students feel about its use.”

According to Hubbell, if the space were to be used for Kinko’s, some of it would also be set aside for other uses. The space around the large front window could be used for seating and possibly to keep one or two pool tables open, he said. Hubbell said the Kinko’s itself would be a “full-service copy center,” suggesting it would be larger than the one in the Statler Hotel and stay open longer. “It would be readily available to students who need to make use of it,” he said.

Responding to students’ objections, Hubbell said, “Of course there’s a great tradition of having it as a pool hall — there are a lot of traditions in Willard Straight … but we’d like to make the highest and best use of these spaces.”

“To his credit, Dean Hubbell said his overall goal was to make Willard Straight a more animated place where students will want to be,” Barrera said. “But I don’t really see how Kinko’s is going to help do that.”

Hubbell said his office will try to resolve the issue within the next four weeks. “Obviously we’d like to get the space in use as soon as possible,” he said

Archived article by Peter Flynn