Commons Plans Released For 15-Month Renovations

The Commons Project Committee has released sketches of Andover’s future dining facility, which will be completed in March 2009 after fifteen months of renovation. The renovations will begin in December 2007. During this time, the Commons dining halls, the Ryley Room, the Ropes Salon and the Rose Room will be completely shut down. The Smith Hockey Rink located next to the Cage will be renovated to serve as the interim eating location. The hockey rink will be enclosed, heated, lighted and brought up to fire safety standards with sprinklers. Chairs and tables from Commons will move to the hockey rink. The staff will use coolers and trailers attached to the rink. While the temporary dining area will not have all of the amenities of the current Commons, the project leaders hope that students and faculty will have a positive perspective on the situation. Michael Williams, Director of Facilities and the senior leader for the project, said, “We recognize that the eating situation will be different. But, we think that with the right attitude, it could be a fun experience.” The hockey rink will be a large eating area where up to 600 individuals can eat together at one time. In addition to adjusting to a different eating environment, students will go 15 months without the Ryley Room. As of right now, Cindy Efinger, Director of Student Activities, has not officially announced what will happen to weekend events that normally take place in Ryley or if a temporary replacement room will exist on campus. However, Efinger has promised that she and the Student Activities Board are working hard to secure sufficient alternatives to the Ryley Room for social events next year. Williams and Efinger both stressed the importance of student involvement in the planning process. On March 5th, OPP, the architectural firm and Commons staff will hold an informational meeting in Ropes to formally announce the changes and a more detailed plan of action. The architectural firm will show digital images of the proposed Commons plans. Thoughts to change Commons first arose in 2000. Commons is one of the older buildings on campus, and in 2003, the Office of the Physical Plant conducted a formal study to assess the needs and the problematic aspects of Commons. On investigation, OPP noticed that the food service equipment was very worn out and the mechanical systems were unreliable. To address this issue, the Commons Programming Committee was created in the fall of 2005. Led by Mathematics Instructor Paul Murphy, the group included teachers, administration members and students. The group shared ideas about their vision of Commons and formed various plans for the building. They consulted the campus community and, upon vote by the trustees, decided on a renovation plan. Many at Phillips Academy did not wish to tear down Commons, a historic landmark that has survived over 75 years. With this sentiment in mind, the committee and trustees spent last summer finding an architect for the project. Through an extensive interview and proposal process, Schwartz/Silver Architects was selected for the work out of six potential firms. The plans proposed by Schwartz/Silver Architects primarily show interior modifications with a few structural alterations. The lobby will undergo the most significant changes. After the renovations, there will be three opening archways inside the front doors, leading into a communal serving area. The area will serve both the Lower Left and Lower Right dining halls, which will remain separate dining areas. The serving section will be based on “platforms,” a new organizational system currently being used by many colleges across the nation. Rather than having one central serving line, students will fan out into separate platforms, serving locations, with different types of food options on each. This model was chosen to allow students a greater selection of food and to eliminate crowding in the serving line. Lower Right will continue to be a dining hall as it is now. Lower Left, however, will be reconstructed to be similar to a café. The continuous dining program will be moved to Lower Left as well. Williams said, “[Lower Left] will have a Panera type menu.” The menu will include baked goods, soups, sandwiches and other café staples. The café will most likely stay open from breakfast until Ryley starts serving food in the evening. It has not yet been decided if the food will be for sale or complimentary. Downstairs, Ryley Room’s interior will remain similar to before. There will be more refrigeration available for a more extensive variety of beverages and snacks. Outside of the Ryley Room, there will be a sloped terrace offering a more open feeling to the Ryley Room. There will be stairs that can double as seats, which would let students use the slope as seating for outdoor performance. Aside from the structural changes, the renovations will allow for increased food quality. Currently, food is prepared in the basement of Commons and sent on trays upstairs to the service areas via dumbwaiters. Once in the service areas, the food is reheated. When the renovations are complete, food will be made where it is served. Also, a completely new food menu will be formulated for the new dining hall. A final, significant feature of the new and improved Commons will be the environmental-friendly additions. The Commons renovations will be a LEED Certified Project, as measured by the U.S. Green Building Council. As the USGBC says, a LEED certification stands “as proof that a building is environmentally responsible, profitable, and a healthy place to live and work.” Furthermore, it verifies that “a building project meets the highest performance standards.”