Blue Wall to undergo renovations

By Shelby Ashline

Nicole Evangelista/Daily Collegian

Students who frequent the Blue Wall for meals will soon be forced to find alternatives as the University of Massachusetts plans to undergo renovations of the dining area after the end of this semester.

The transformation, which is expected to be completed by Aug. 15, 2014, will include a redesign that is hoped to provide better, more efficient service to its customers and become a more inviting space, according to UMass Director of Retail Dining Services David Eichstaedt.

Though the new design of the Blue Wall has not yet been finalized, Eichstaedt said it is likely that self-sufficient stations will be set up around the perimeter.

“We’re changing our way of thinking (regarding) the quality of the food and the preparation,” Eichstaedt said, “and this new design will allow us to do that.”

There is expected to be a larger variety of seating after the renovations with increased space for dining. In fact, according to Eichstaedt, the plan is to increase seating enough so that it will be feasible to close the Hatch, consolidating the Hatch, Blue Wall and the Marketplace into one organization.

Designers will be creating a “more open, free-flowing space” by removing the concrete walls in Blue Wall, according to Eichstaedt. The layout will also allow for traffic to flow quicker, according to Ken Toong, executive director of Auxiliary Enterprises.

The opening of the new academic building next to the Campus Center was “a big contributing factor” in deciding to renovate the Blue Wall, Eichstaedt said.

“We knew that we had to increase the seating and increase the number of food service venues to get people through fast enough,” he said. “We’re over capacity now, and when that new classroom building opens, it’s going to be even worse.”

Eichstaedt and Toong estimate that the renovations could cost anywhere from $14 to $19 million. Some of the funding would come from “state bonding through UMass Building Authorities,” Eichstaedt said. The rest of the money would be taken from what the university has reserved, according to Toong.

Bruner/Cott Architects and Planners, which is based in Cambridge, has been put in charge of designing the layout for the new Blue Wall, while Lee Kennedy Co. Inc. out of Quincy will head the actual construction.

During the renovation, accommodations will be made for Blue Wall and Market customers.

“We’re going to set up temporary feeding stations throughout the Student Union and Campus Center to help support the displaced customers,” Eichstaedt said. “We’re going to use the Student Union Ballroom as overflow seating for lunch Monday through Friday.”

There are also plans to have two food trucks parked as close as possible to the Campus Center to compensate for the loss of the Blue Wall, and the Hatch will have extended hours. It will be open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.

When the Blue Wall reopens, it will be “more sustainable,” Eichstaedt said.  The compostable paper products such as plates and cups that are currently in use will be replaced by china plates and cups for the students that intend to stay at the dining area to eat.

Toong suspects that the Blue Wall will be so busy after its reopening that it will offer more jobs for the students as well.

The rest of the Campus Center will also experience changes. According to Eichstaedt, the Reading Room, which currently hosts meetings, is going to become “a quick-serve market,” similar to a Grab-N-Go.

After renovations of the Blue Wall have been completed, Worcester Dining Commons will be the next dining area to undergo renovations, followed by Franklin Dining Commons.  Renovations of Worcester and Franklin will likely occur in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

Toong’s goal for the restorations is to bring the next generation of retail dining to campus. He hopes to make the Blue Wall “the best retail location in the nation.”

Shelby Ashline can be reached at [email protected]