Next great place to eat — or put up your feet

architect rendering-curtis dining renovation-fireplace
A stone wall and fireplace in the center of Curtis dining room will create a comfortable lounge for eating and also for spending time after hours. View Photos

Curtis dining hall is undergoing an impressive transformation for fall semester 2017, making the most of its open plan and hub location to become an outstanding venue for student dining. The emphasis is on fresh ingredients, fresh preparation, range of options, and greater efficiency. What’s also new is that Curtis is becoming a great social space that will stay open for student use even when meals aren’t being served.

The new design literally takes down the walls that currently hide the cooking process, bringing the kitchen out into the open with a variety of food stations. At these stations, students can customize their meals and talk with the people who prepare their orders with the freshest ingredients, right in front of them.

General Manager for Dining Services Paul Mixa is excited for the chefs and staff to have newer and more efficient equipment and the open kitchen plan. “There will be much more freedom for the students to make food the way they want it — students and staff can concentrate on good, fresh food and how they’d like to see it prepared.”

architect rendering-curtis dining hall food prep

Mixa also sees more freedom for the chefs to create new dishes, and they can continue to both develop a menu of ethnic foods and modify old favorites, especially the popular comfort foods. “Want to add something extra to your mac & cheese? The mac & cheese bar will allow you to improvise. Don’t want peas in your chicken pot pie? That’s how we’ll make it for you.”

Jenna McDevitt, Director of Administrative Services, also likes the convenience and clarity of a special area for foods being created for students with dietary restrictions. “These foods will be distributed throughout the serving areas as they always have been, but they’ll also be concentrated in one prominent place to avoid the need for navigating, hunting, and asking.” Rice and almond milk, lactose-free and gluten-free products, as well as other options for restricted diets will be readily available.

Seating options are changing too: “We’re going to have a food bar area, booths, regular tables, and also big wooden community tables which have been popular,” says McDevitt.

architect rendering-curtis dining fireplace

The centerpiece of the renovation will be a stone-walled fireplace, with comfortable seating around it. Students can have meals beside the fire, which will even be open for students to use and enjoy after food service hours.

What I'm looking forward to most is that Curtis is going to be more than just a dining hall,” says Tommy McMaster ’19. “There will be different styles of seating and sections to suit the atmosphere and amount of time you want to spend with your meal. The new social space at the fireplace will be a great hub for west quad and an excellent area to study in at night.”

architect rendering-curtis dining-drink dispensers

Alexandria Nickles ’17 is also excited about the plan. “We’re hoping the space will bring the community together and be a place where students want to go to spend time with their friends, not just for food. And having the food prepared in front of us will be really cool. It will help students learn about food and see an overall fresh, healthy approach to cooking.”

Since most of the infrastructure for Curtis dates back to 1967, all of the kitchen exhaust, lighting, and other systems will be replaced as will cooking and refrigeration equipment, which means that energy efficiency and environmental sustainability will be greatly improved. Art Chonko, director of facilities services, expects something in the range of a 30 to 45 percent reduction in energy use after the renovation, possibly better.

After Huffman Dining Hall underwent a major renovation in 2013, its energy consumption dropped to about half of Curtis’s. “I would assume we’ll see similar numbers after Curtis is renovated,” adds Chonko.

Also similar to Huffman, the Curtis project is so extensive that it can’t all be done over the summer, so plans are for the facility to close starting March 11, 2017, to re-open in time for fall semester in late August. A work-around strategy to minimize disruption for student meals has been planned for the last part of spring semester, and the dining options are now posted on the website.

curtis dining hall construction 1967
    February 3, 2017