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Campus Dining plans accommodations during North Dining Hall renovations

| Friday, November 4, 2016

It’s long overdue, director of student dining Scott Kachmarik said.

Duct tape attempts to hold together leaky pipes in the basement. The linoleum kitchen floor is cracked and mismatched, a result of half-hearted repairs and renovations over the years. Old equipment — like a hanging rack, used back when the University butchered its own meat — clutters the building, no longer necessary for day-to-day operations.

North Dining Hall hasn’t been renovated in 30 years, Kachmarik said. But that’s all about to change.

North Dining Hall undergoes its first renovations in 30 years, including a new entrance and lounge area. Rosie LoVoi

North Dining Hall undergoes its first renovations in 30 years, including a new entrance and lounge area.

Campus Dining unveiled a five-phase plan to remodel North Dining Hall at student senate Sept. 28. Construction on the multi-million dollar project — which will completely gut and refurbish the building — began over fall break.

At times during the renovation process, the number of seats in the dining hall will be reduced from 1,300 to 600 — which, Kachmarik said, will undoubtedly affect the campus dining experience.

“Some people are saying, ‘North is going to be closed.’ We’re not,” he said. “When classes are in session, we’re going to be open.”

But it won’t always be easy.

To mitigate the effects of the renovations — the majority of which will happen during the spring semester — Campus Dining plans to adjust some of its current policies.

Both dining halls will operate on a “continuous dining” system, so students can eat at any point in the day during operating hours — not just during specified meal times. Additionally, students will receive an unspecified amount of extra flex points next semester, allowing them to utilize other campus dining options and minimize traffic in North.

“Is it going to be tight and somewhat stressful? Yes, there’s going to be times where that’ll be the case,” Kachmarik said.

But director of Campus Dining Chris Abayasinghe said when everything’s finished, it will be worth the hassle.

“Here’s the way I look at it — I just think about how great the end result is going to be,” Abayasinghe said.

The new design of North Dining Hall will be a sort of “contemporary marketplace feel,” Kachmarik said.

“I think we’re going to reinforce that a little bit in terms of really making a distinction between North and South,” he said. “North will develop its own identity — physically and characteristically.”

The project has been in the works for years, Kachmarik added. Now, it’s finally set to be finished before the fall semester of 2017.

The phases

The walls are coming down.

After the renovations, the servery in North Dining Hall will no longer be spread across several rooms. The entire dining area will be more open, Kachmarik said, hopefully allowing students to navigate it more easily.

For the rest of the fall semester, the north end of the building will be closed — the Rec Room and the pizza and pasta station have been relocated to the south side of the dining hall.

“This is phase one of the project,” Kachmarik said. “I think it’s been successful because it’s helped get people’s attention. Now they’ll know what’s going on when some of the bigger changes start to take place.”

Over winter break, the entire dining hall will be closed so the ceiling and light fixtures in the kitchen can be replaced in phase two. Then, when students return to campus, the entire north half of the dining room will be closed for renovations.

It is during this time, Kachmarik said, that students will be encouraged to adapt their dining routines — as the number of available seats is cut in half.

“We’re going to put up a wall straight through the middle of the dining room,” he said. “We’ll need people to come in quickly and leave pretty quickly.”

In addition to offering extra flex points and the “continuous dining” schedule — from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays — Campus Dining will offer special promotions and additional hours at the Huddle, Au Bon Pain, Decio Commons, Café de Grasta and Reckers.

North Dining Hall’s Grab ‘n Go station has also been relocated to the entrance lobby, allowing students to come in and out quickly during peak dining times.

During spring break, the set up will flip flop — students will be able to dine in the newly renovated north end of the dining hall, and the south side will be closed for construction.

“The original plan was actually a two-phase one that was going to take the whole kitchen offline around Easter,” Kachmarik said. “ … But we decided we wanted to keep serving meals through finals week.”

The fifth phase of the project will take place over the summer — when the dining hall will close completely so a new kitchen floor and new pieces of equipment can be installed.

“Everyone thinks it’s all cosmetic,” Kachmarik said. “But at this point, a lot of it’s for the infrastructure — everything’s getting pretty old.”

The vision

Kachmarik said he thinks North will continue to be perceived the more “chill and casual” dining hall of the two.

“I really think so because of the types of seating we’re going to have,” Kachmarik said. “We’ll have high tops with four seats at them. We’ll have long table for 25 people to sit together. We’ll have booths and banquettes.”

“We met with the interior designers last week, and I was a little overwhelmed,” he added with a laugh. “There’s like five or six different types of chairs coming into this place.”

An entrance to the building will be added on the east side of the building — supplemented by new sidewalk and exterior landscaping — so students living in Mod Quad dorms have a more convenient route to the dining room.

The entire south side of the building — where the training tables for Notre Dame athletes are currently located — will be transformed into a lobby area, with lounge furniture and TVs.

“This can actually be an after-hours space for students to come to at night, instead of the library,” Kachmarik said.

The end of this lobby will contain the new Grab ‘n Go area, which Kachmarik described as a “Fresh Foods Market” or “convenient mart” — possibly a place where students could spend flex points and Domer Dollars.

“There will be hot items to go,” he said. “You think about Cafe de Grasta or the Huddle — it’s going to be more like one of those.”

As a result of the renovations, Campus Dining will be reexamining the current student meal plan system, Kachmarik added, predicting changes as early as the fall semester of 2018.

Already, the project plans to incorporate a number of new allergen-free, vegan and other alternative options into menus.

“The food that we want to be able to provide will include enhanced nutrition options,” Abayasinghe said. “So that will mean foods which are either designated specifically — from a recipe perspective — either high in protein, low in sodium.”

The changes will be introduced in both North and South, he added, contingent on the parts of the menu that are impacted by specific equipment.

“That way, the dining experience is as similar as possible,” Abyasinghe said.

The future

South Dining Hall was last renovated 20 years ago.

“I think the desire’s not to wait 30 years again,” Kachmarik said. “So I think the conversation’s starting about South. And I think there are some things we could address sooner rather than later.”

One of the largest aspects of the North Dining Hall project is purely related to infrastructure systems — mechanical, electrical and plumbing.

“It’s a maze of pipes because through the years, the building has been changed and renovated and adapted,” Kachmarik said.

While dealing with these systems — many of which are crucial to culinary operations — Kachmarik said he hopes there will not be any problems. But if something happens — say, somebody hits a wrong pipe — Campus Dining is prepared to communicate the news to campus.

“Things are going to change on a regular basis,” he admitted. “We’re thinking about how we adapt to changes on the fly.”

To communicate with the student body, Campus Dining will use their website, signs and the PA system in the dining halls and social media updates. They will also visit student senate, Hall President’s Council and individual residence halls for occasional check-ins and updates.

“I think we’re looking to collaborate with the students,” Kachmarik said. “Hopefully they’ve seen, to this point, the communication and feedback we’ve gotten from students, we’ve made adjustments on.”

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About Katie Galioto

Katie, the Observer's current Managing Editor, is a senior majoring in political science, with minors in Business Economics and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy. She's a former Walsh Hall resident who now lives off campus and hails from Chanhassen, Minnesota. Follow her on Twitter @katiegalioto.

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