‘Prayer room’ project scrapped

Proposal to renovate Applied Arts Building balcony canceled


File Photo / The Advocate

A group of Muslim students pray in the Library and Learning Resource Center on March 20, 2017 during one of their five daily prayers. The Muslim Student Association coordinated efforts to create a designated space on campus for prayer. But the space allocated for prayer failed to comply with ADA requirements or district architectural standards.

By Robert Clinton, Opinion Editor

Last semester, a plan was devised to re-purpose a rarely used balcony in the Applied Arts Building for use as an “interfaith prayer room,” but as of this semester, that plan has been completely nixed.

Safety concerns marked the reason for the cancellation as the balcony was not built to perform as a load-bearing platform. Moreover, plans for the elevated surface were not reviewed before allowing the area to be designated for student use.

“We are going to have to start from scratch and look for a new location because technically it’s a roof and not a balcony,” Buildings and Grounds Manager Bruce King said. “The schools are all regulated very tightly on safety and by the ADA.”

The idea, initially the brainchild of Muslim Student Association members and club President Rayah Alammari, was presented to then Dean of Student Services Vicki Ferguson who took the proposal through operations and then to the College Council for approval.

The area, for students of all cultures and faiths, was intended to provide a quiet space to pray or practice life-enriching activities requiring a more personal setting.

Ferguson, along with King and Director of Business Services Mariles Magalong, scoured the campus in spring 2017 looking for available options for the proposed interfaith prayer room.

Since not one room was made available for an “interfaith prayer room” throughout the pristine $73 million Campus Center Project, the trio settled for a secluded balcony on the north side of the AA Building.

Alammari said she has not been contacted by anyone from the administration alerting her that plans for the MSA to use the AA Building balcony had been rescinded.

Even with the renovations currently underway in the AA Building, no designated space has been allotted for an “interfaith prayer room” despite handing students an area for personal reflection, then yanking it away before any of them got to use it.

“I’m not 100 percent sure if they (MSA) know that the balcony will no longer be the location, but I will make an announcement at the next ICC meeting,” Student Life Coordinator Joel Nickelson-Shanks said. “They (MSA) did lead the charge to see if we can get a little more pressure to make sure that finding a space stays on the radar.”

Nickelson-Shanks said the location of the interfaith prayer room is not the only change that are being made. The name of the interfaith prayer room is being changed to the wellness room as a caution to not alienate any students due to religion.

A walk-through the General Education Building on any day of the week will reveal a host of unused conference rooms that could easily accommodate the square feet requirements.

Contra Costa Community College District Facilities Planner Ray Pyle said, “The basic load capacity, as determined by code, is 15 square feet per person.”

Plans have not begun to find a replacement for the ill-fated “interfaith prayer room” and judging by the traditional inaction by committee, a process that usually accompanies any transition from idea to action on campus, it may take a while.

“The way that things generally happen on this campus is they go through the Operations Council and that’s what I’m going to recommend when Joel (Nickelson-Shanks) and I sit down,” Interim Dean of Student Services Dennis Franco said. “We have to find another place and that, of course, has to be given the blessing to use. Space is at a minimum especially at the peak periods of the day.”

There is one silver lining to losing the AA balcony as a sanctuary space.

King said, “It may be a good thing that the room is being moved. The windows (near the balcony) made what should be a private moment for students to observe their faith, a spectacle for everyone to see.”