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Dining out by dining in?
Revamped d-hall aims for downtown-style food and ambience
By Susan Rosenberg

If you eat in your own kitchen, you can make your food (or coach the cook) just the way you like. If you go to a restaurant, you can choose from a wider variety of dishes, cooked by experts. If you attend Skidmore, you can have both—at least, that’s the plan behind a major renovation of the dining halls, now under way.

“Most of the production and plating will happen out in the open, at various serving stations, where the students can have input,” says Jon Neil, director of dining services. The Aikin and Murray Dining Halls will feature a central kitchen with a multitude of seating areas and food stations arrayed around it. Along with the current do-it-yourself setups for eggs, waffles, and tacos, the new d-hall will offer professionally made-to-order dishes from, say, a pasta bar, pizza oven, and stir-fry station. Neil says even the kitchen-prepared dishes (which may feature international fare from tandoori to tofu) will be brought out more frequently, in smaller batches. In short, according to project architect Mark Connor, the new design puts “fresh ingredients and meal preparation at center stage.”

“Kids are excited by the idea of fresher food,” says Adam Eckstein ’07, a member of the d-hall project’s planning committee. In fact, a student Nutrition Action Council and an organic-food group have been lobbying Neil for more locally grown and healthy foods. Which could fit nicely into Neil’s mission to provide optimum choice and convenience. “We can no longer expect busy students to sit down for traditional meals at specified times,” he notes.

Still, says Pat Oles, dean of student affairs, fostering shared dining experiences is important. “We’ve had the underclassmen using the dining hall and the upper classes mostly eating at their apartments. We hope the new offerings will entice more students to dine on campus—together.”
Supporting that idea is Connor’s interest in combining the “visual excitement of an urban bistro with the intimacy and community of a farmers’ market.” But with serving counters so dispersed, won’t it be a trek to gather all the items for a complete meal? No problem, says Neil: Specialty stations will also offer common side dishes—for example, small salads will be available at the pasta bar.

An all-new addition is the second story over the central kitchen area. Moveable walls can divide the space into smaller dining rooms or open it up as a 250-seat banquet hall. Also, to create a unified entrance and an atrium (see architect’s rendering above) in front of the student-ID checkpoint, the building’s “footprint” will expand a bit in front, nudging the Case Green stage and bandstand farther onto the green.

Renovations began in January and proceed this spring and summer—in segments, so the facility can continue serving students and summer-program patrons—with completion targeted for the fall. Meanwhile, Neil and others will define new meal-plan options and longer serving hours. By then, if student rep Adam Eckstein is right, the new dining hall will truly fulfill its civic function as “an important centerpiece of the campus.”