Renovations are on the menu for University of Massachusetts dining commons (DC) as Auxiliary Enterprises intends to spend $69 million revamping the facilities over the next six years.
The DCs, which serve over 40,000 meals a day and five million meals a year, are close to 50 years old and outdated, according to Executive Director of Auxiliary Enterprises Ken Toong.
Kitchen upgrades – intended to create energy efficiency – retail space, dining and seating areas are some of the changes Toong said members of the University community should expect.
The first area Toong’s plans will target is Hampshire Dining Common located within the Southwest Residential Area adjacent to the Kennedy and Coolidge tower dormitories.
Toong hopes to turn Hampshire DC into “something even better than Berkshire.” The renovations will begin in January 2013, and the DC will be “off line” until September 2013, according to an email from Toong.
While the renovations are in progress, students will be temporarily inconvenienced, said Toong. To minimize the impact, only one DC will be closed at a time during the six years of renovations, said Toong. However, students will be forced to eat elsewhere for the duration of the renovations.
Toong said that other DCs will have extended hours during these times, and that Auxiliary Enterprises plans to inform students at least three months in advance of any renovations. There will also potentially, be temporary seating and dining areas in other locations on campus.
“I think UMass is … getting overcrowded, so if they were to close the DCs, that would be really inconvenient,” said sophomore Madeleine Brennan. “It would make it hectic and time-consuming to eat a meal.”
Brennan, who was eating in the Blue Wall – one of the areas scheduled to be renovated – added that she was not sure the updates were necessary.
“I think the dining halls are great as they are,” said Brennan. “There are other places that need [renovations].”
Brennan said that she thinks the money should instead be spent on fixing things like broken sinks in her dorm building.
According to Toong, UMass dining intends to pay for the $69 million renovations with bond issues and from reserve balances saved over the years for future renovations.
Some students, though, do not think the renovations are worth the money or the temporary inconvenience, and said that the deemed outdated DCs are functional as they stand presently.
“I don’t want them to renovate at all,” said sophomore Jess Lennox. “The money can go to a lot better things, like classroom buildings. The library could use something new, but I think everything’s fine and these renovations are completely unnecessary.”
According to Toong, some students are unhappy because they believe the changes are happening “right away,” but he believes the three-month notice is an acceptable warning.
Junior Allie Connell, however, said she is excited about the prospect of better dining halls.
“I feel like the buildings need updating, especially Franklin, which is disgusting,” said Connell. She also said the renovations are absolutely worth the money, but closing the DCs during the school year isn’t a good idea and would rather they did the updating at a time where it would not be an imposition on students.
Sophomore Deirdre Cedrone also said while the renovations “are worth the money,” she would rather see funds spent elsewhere.
“I think everything is great now,” she said. “I would never complain about the food. I think the school should focus more on tuition costs and stuff like that.”
Cedrone added that she likes the DCs the way they are, and that nothing really needs to change.
“I think in the long run it will be worth the money, but in the meantime it’s going to be a really big inconvenience,” said freshman Scott Clooney. “These dining halls are already crowded as is.”
The $69 million dollars will be spent between all DCs and cafes on campus. Hampshire DC renovations will cost $14 million, Commonwealth College Cyber Café will cost $1.8 million, Campus Center Dining will cost $11 million, Campus Center Concourse will cost $1.2 million, Worcester DC renovations will cost $25 million, Franklin DC will cost $15 million and the Library Café should cost a projected $1 million.
Toong said he also aims to improve UMass dining services’ food selection and presentation. These improvements, according to Toong, will include better coffee, artisan bread at the Berkshire deli station, freshly ground peanut butter at Worcester and Berkshire DCs and a new menu for Baby Berk that features tacos.
“We want to make every meal the customer consumes an experience,” said Toong.
Berkshire has also made the recent addition of china plates, as part of Toong’s goal to make the dining experience more like “eating at home,” but one student feels it is an accident waiting to happen.
“I don’t think that was a smart move,” said Brennan. “I saw a kid who looked like he was probably a freshman drop two plates and a glass on the ground, and everyone started clapping. I think that’s just going to happen all the time.”