After a little more than a year of dust, debris, and drilling – and decades of countless students, faculty and staff longing for a more inviting space – NCSSM-Durham finally has a completely renovated dining hall.
The first group of students turned the corner into the new dining area at 7:30 on Sept. 11, a Monday morning. What they found looked nothing at all like the previous space that, in four decades, had changed very little in its form or aesthetics. Gone are the drab colors and severely outdated materials that lingered from the building’s long-ago years as a hospital. Gone is the boxy layout of the serving area that inhibited the free flow of student traffic and hid a wall of windows offering natural light. Gone, for the most part, are the multiple supporting arches reminiscent of ancient aqueducts. And gone, too, is the metal gate that, during off-hours, was pulled shut in a rattling racket, marking the cafeteria a no-go zone.
“It’s great. It’s really wide and open and the lighting is really nice,” said Anthony Agyeman, a senior from Raleigh, who spent the majority of last year and the opening weeks of this academic year grabbing takeout-only meals from the temporary serving space set up in the school’s racquetball courts. “Already it seems like a much happier place and all the students seem happier. We were really excited for the cafeteria to finally open up because we’ve been waiting for a really long time.”
The new cafeteria offers an open floor plan, modern design, plenty of bright white tile and a light color palette that invites sunlight through new windows that bathe students sitting in the newly created space with light. The long, narrow dining area familiar to so many students now has televisions and open seating in the back corners, a new and very modern ceiling of light-stained wood, and plenty of overhead light. Even a small space outdoors, hidden away to many and relatively overlooked by nearly all over the years, has now been opened to seating for a handful of students who want to sit in the shade with greenery above and behind them.
Together, the new space offers a much more welcoming atmosphere that encourages socializing and collaborative experiences. In fact, the new space is now being referred to by many as the “cafe.”
Ava Cummings, a junior from Smithfield, had no experience with the dining hall’s previous iteration, but that didn’t stop her and her friends from being excited about the dining area. She already envisions it becoming the collaborative space it was designed to be. “It’s definitely a great area for us to all congregate and get work done and talk to other people. Usually my friends and I don’t get together for breakfast but last night, everyone was messaging each other, “Guys, let’s all get together to go to breakfast in the morning!”
“The best part about this renovation is the community effort that was involved,” says Michael Newbauer, NCSSM’s Director of Residential Education who serves as the liaison between Student Life and the food service vendor. “From our maintenance staff, our housekeeping staff, our student life, operations, the architects and the state and the food services contractor who all worked together to bring this together, it has been like a family. That’s been the most rewarding for me. And then, to see the students’ faces today; they’re having these ‘wow’ moments, and that makes it the best, to see the joy in people’s faces. Today is one of the best that I’ve had at NCSSM.”
Though work on the dining hall looks finished, this is actually the first phase in a two-phase project that will transform the way the school provides food services for its students. In time, the dining area will grow even further in size, expanding its existing footprint into the bottom level of a new building addition called the Academic Commons. A wing of the current dining hall will convert to an “active lounge” area for students. And though for now it contains a mix of dining tables and soft furniture, it will remain open outside of mealtimes for studying and socializing, much as Bryan Lobby does, making it a much needed student-centered “hangout” area.
Chancellor Todd Roberts thanked those who made the project possible financially: “This dining hall renovation and those to come over the next several years would not be possible without the generous support of NCSSM Foundation donors, including alumni, which helps garner state support and investment,” he said. “We’ve raised about $14 million privately, plus some $50 million in state investment to be used to improve NCSSM-Durham over the next five years, including the renovation of every residence hall and the addition of the Academic Commons.”