College to redesign Mission dining hall

With Baxter Hall slated to undergo massive renovations in the next two years, the College has preempted the resulting space crunch in dining halls by planning significant renovations to the Mission Park dining hall. The renovations, which will expand the dining hall and bring the Mission Park complex up to standards specified by current building codes, are slated to start at the end of the school year, with a projected opening just before the 2002-2003 school year begins.

An expanded Mission will be necessary because Baxter currently provides three meals a day for a large number of students from the freshman quad, Morgan, and row houses; Baxter and Mission are also currently the only dining halls that serve breakfast. Dining Services has yet to determine how the dining responsibilities will be shared by the different dining halls – row house dining has been discussed as a possible replacement option.

Mike Cutler, the unit manager for Mission dining hall, said that Mission’s dining hall is in need of a serious makeover. “I’ve been here for 25 years, and this is very exciting,” he said, noting that while the types of food and the student body have changed over the years, Mission’s structural makeup has never accommodated the changes.

For instance, he said, Mission used to serve only one main course; there was no vegetarian option, no pizza line, and no salad bar. The result is that as these various additions have been made to the dining hall, the actual flow of student traffic has not been adjusted to make the dining hall easier to navigate and the food more accessible. Students often have to wait substantial amounts of time because of the inefficient layout of the pizza line and main dinner option line. While these are not major inconveniences, a few structural changes will solve many of the dining hall’s problems.

Along with changes to the serving line, the kitchen area will also be expanded into what is now the women’s bathroom on the west side of the dining hall. Much of the old cooking equipment will remain, but Cutler said that a few new items will be added, such as a stir-fryer and grilling equipment similar to those installed in Dodd House last summer. “We’re going to keep [the equipment] that’s functioning,” he said.

The wall that currently separates the kitchen and serving line area will be torn down to create a more open area. While the square footage of the space will remain the same, Cutler said that the removal of the wall and the addition of brighter lights will make the area look bigger and much more inviting. The final product will resemble the kitchen and serving area in Dodd, albeit on a larger scale. “It’s going to look a lot bigger,” Cutler said. “There will be overhangs and lighting. We’re going to stick with cement and stainless steel, but it will look good.”

In the main dining area, Cutler said that almost everything will remain the same. “The design of the dining hall won’t change much. The beverage units will be set into the wall, [but] the tables are remaining the same.” Cutler also said that there will be a continental breakfast bar, which will allow students to arrive for breakfast later than the current closing time of 9:30 a.m.

The most significant changes that will be made to the dining hall involve the conversion of both Mission library and the Mission student kitchen areas into dining spaces.

In his preliminary meetings with the since-departed director of housing Tom McEvoy, Cutler stressed the illogical placement of the student kitchen. Located down a dark corridor in an area that is not easily accessible to students, the kitchen is not an inviting space and is thus under-utilized by students. Cutler proposed moving the kitchen to the west student lounge on the first floor of Mission, where it will be more visible.

The current student kitchen area will be converted into an area with comfortable furniture, similar to the upstairs lounge in Driscoll.

“My plan down the road is to make Mission’s [student] kitchen a classroom or multipurpose room,” Cutler said, explaining that students and faculty will be able to book it, just as Dodd’s Gibson room can be reserved.

Once converted, the library will have improved lighting and a number of computer terminals that will allow students to check their e-mail during meals.

As for how students can expect food quality to change, Cutler admitted that while the food will be better because of the new equipment being installed, Mission will never be quite like Dodd, simply because of the larger number of people that the dining hall serves every day. Mission serves around 150 students for breakfast, 130 for lunch, and 275 for dinner. On some busy nights during football season, though, the number of people dining in Mission can surpass 500.

When Baxter closes, Cutler expects an additional 100 students for both lunch and dinner. Breakfast should remain essentially the same because of Mission’s location at the bottom of a hill; students simply do not want to walk down, have breakfast, and walk back up the hill to get to class.

However, he did note that unlike Dodd, Mission will have three staples of the dining hall: its pizza line and pasta every day and a main course option.

Students will always be able to have the pizza or pasta, as opposed to Dodd, which currently only serves specialty foods. “We’re not going to start cooking nine different menu items. We’re going to be different than Dodd because we still do a main menu, plus specialty items,” Cutler said. Cutler did note that food will often be cooked to order, as is now frequently done in Dodd.

“I think we’ll hold our own,” he said. “[This is] just going to be an incredible transformation.”

On a broader scale, the renovations require that Mission Park be brought up to current building codes. Currently, the building has poor accessibility for handicapped individuals, a problem that will be remedied with the installation of an elevator to provide access to the dining area and the ground floor of Mission. The elevator will be constructed on the eastern side of the dining hall, in the empty space between Mission library and the current dining area.

The bathrooms in the dining hall will also be handicapped-accessible, with both the men’s and women’s facilities on the eastern side of the kitchen.