We Need to Renovate

Every day, over a thousand people rush up and down the granite steps leading into Commons, stomachs empty and minds prepared to search for something edible. Every week, trucks filled with food pull up to the service entrance and unload food into waiting refrigerators. Every year, each member of a new class finds his or her distinct place among the four halls. Yet all of this happens so smoothly and routinely that many take for granted the huge and multi-faceted operation that goes on under one roof. Unfortunately, this roof is in sore need of repair. The Commons we know and love has been around for over 75 years, a short time in the history of Phillips Academy but too long to go without renovation. Although each student only uses the dining hall for, at most, four years, even that amount of time is enough for anyone to see why Commons must be updated. The black and white photos on the walls, depicting prep school boys in suits and ties, may look outdated and old fashioned, and that’s because they are. It is time for a twenty-first century Commons. The Commons Project Committee has been working on this goal since the fall of 2005 and recently released general information about Andover’s future dining hall, coupled with some sleek, modern-looking sketches. The plans promise, among many other great features, an entirely new menu, a café-style dining area in place of Lower Left, and a more open Ryley room. The committee states that Commons’ new menu will offer a greater selection of food and be of higher quality than the current offering. No one can argue with better food. Additionally, Lower Left is certainly one of the more under used or at least under appreciated dining halls, and a change in its purpose will no doubt help remove any stigma associated with sitting there. Finally, although Ryley’s small size and relative darkness can help create a feeling of closeness and intimacy between students, the room can rapidly become a hot, claustrophobic space reminiscent of a bomb shelter, only with rap music. And, while I’m sure it passes fire safety regulations, it’s set up is severely flawed. One look at the tiny staircase that currently serves as the room’s only exit would make any architect beg to remodel. The proposed changes to Commons will remedy this situation. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that the pros outlined above far outweigh the cons of the proposed construction, and these benefits are only a few of the many. It is also important to remember that the student body is not the only group of people that will be affected by the coming changes. Behind the scenes of Commons, in the kitchens, a staff of 75 works in sweltering conditions to provide Phillips Academy with sustenance. In 2003, “OPP noticed that the food service equipment was very worn out and the mechanical systems were unreliable,” reported a Phillipian article on February 19th. Each time a student takes part in their annual Commons Duty, he or she is rudely awakened to the difficulties of cleaning up after the student body. Now imagine doing the cooking as well, all on worn out and unreliable equipment. Andover’s kitchen staff deserves the best equipment and conditions possible. That statement practically goes without saying, so it is disappointing to read in an Andover Bulletin of 2004 that Commons uses “outdated utility systems and food preparation areas.” Now, at last, something is being done about this. What’s more, such inadequate conditions present a stark contrast to the rest of Andover’s facilities. The school boasts a shiny new science center, a nationally renowned art museum, and a campus designed by Frederic Law Olmstead based on the golden ratio. The grass is always green on Parents’ Weekend, and even the snow is picturesque. There is no doubt that such beautiful surroundings contribute to Phillips Academy’s excellent admissions rate and the favor of our trustees. This (albeit somewhat superficial) advantage should not be compromised by an inferior dining hall. Of course, current Phillips Academy students past the application process but not yet trustees are the ones facing months without Commons. This year’s seniors don’t have to worry about the renovation since they will not be present for the nuisance of construction or the reward of a new building. The lower classes, on the other hand, have reason to grumble and complain. The class of 2008, in particular, gets all the hassle without the benefits of enjoying the results. Then again, 2009 has to endure the changes for a year and a half, with only a term and a half with the new dining hall. During the construction, students will be banished to eat in the old hockey rink, which will be enclosed and lighted for this purpose. In the February 19th Phillipian, 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.” Fun is not exactly the word that comes to mind at the prospect an extended 15-minute trudge from a Pine Knoll or Abbot Cluster dorm all the way to the rink (through snow, sleet and other godforsaken elements) for a 7:30 a.m. breakfast. Fun is not a word we personally would choose to describe eating food which had to be cooked in trailers. Fun just barely misses our description of a year and a half sans Ryley. What will students to on the weekends? Images come to mind of crowds of bewildered and bemused students wandering aimlessly from quad to quad with nowhere to go and no where to satisfy a fried food fix. And just imagine those students down in Abbot cluster. Every time an Alumni House girl feels the slightest inkling for food, she must suit up for a 15-minute schlep all the way across campus to the gym. Although we are having a hard time visualizing the fun which will come from this, the necessary aspect of such a sacrifice is quite clear. The question on everyone’s lips: Why us? The answer is that it must be someone. People will hate it whenever it happens, and the timing will never be perfect. Although it is unfortunate that our years are the ones burdened with “rink dining,” it had to happen sometime. Commons is going to be renovated, and we can’t change that, no matter how much we whine. The fate of this situation is ultimately up to the students. We can choose to stick with our irritated attitudes, but nothing good will come of this besides constant exasperation. Instead, we might as well look on the bright side. After all, everyone will have a new appreciation for Commons after being forced to go without it.