Friday, August 19, 2016
T minus four hours and counting. There’s a demonstrable energy in the room. Everyone is in motion. A young woman carries a pile of plates. A half dozen workmen assemble the hood over a cook station. Local architect Shelane Buehler balances a couple stacked chairs over her head. It is 12:30 p.m. By presidential decree, the new dining hall “WILL BE OPEN” for freshman students’ first dinner on campus Friday, Aug. 19, at 4:30 p.m.
The new “Grotto Commons” represents the first large capital project under the leadership of Mercyhurst University President Michael T. Victor, who begins the second year of his tenure this month. From the beginning, he stressed that he wanted the Class of 2020 to be the first served in the new dining hall, which meant it had to be opened by Move-In Day.
And since the Class of 2020 has turned out to be the largest freshman class in Mercyhurst history, getting the dining hall completed on time took on a whole new urgency.
Crews began renovations the day after graduation, Monday, May 23, and were still working on launch day.
“We’ll be ready,” said Buehler, as she scurries about the $3 million dining hall renovation she designed. “Just a few finishing touches, that’s all that’s left.”
The project was funded by Mercyhurst capital funds and a $2 million contribution from the university’s food service partner, Parkhurst Dining. The amount included not only renovations, but new food service equipment and all new furnishings.
When students set foot in the dining hall today, they’ll find an inviting, modern atmosphere with easily accessible food stations, more eclectic menu items, flex-style seating, enhanced technology, and group gathering sites – all in a timeless environment spun of neutrals and pops of color to make it fresh and fun.
In the past decade, American eating habits have changed significantly, and so has the college dining experience. For years, Mercyhurst and Parkhurst have emphasized innovation in food sourcing, food safety, waste reduction and other sustainable practices in cafeteria operations. In spite of such transformative changes, including specialized food choices and a variety of dining concepts, the dining hall design had remained untouched for at least three decades.
“We are enormously grateful to Parkhurst for working with us to heighten the dining experience for our college community, particularly our students,” Victor said. “This is a perfect example of the power of cultivating relationships. Our beautiful campus has always had that certain WOW factor, and now our dining hall will, too.”