PA Community Returns To Commons After A 15-Month Renovation Period

Paresky Commons opened its doors to students and faculty on Sunday night after 15 months of construction and dining in Uncommons. The newly opened dining hall features new equipment and trained staff to prepare and serve meals to the Phillips Academy community. Sustainability was also a concern when designing the new space and meal plan. Paresky Commons now features a pulper-extractor to compost food waste. According to Paul Robarge, Senior Food Service Director, the plates go on a belt to the dishroom and through the extractor. After the machine rinses plates in a water bath, it sends the waste to the basement. Then, the pulper-extractor removes water from the waste and a local farm picks up the compost. “[The pulper-extractor] saves water because we used recycled water [in the process and it] saves the number of pickups which leads to less gas and pollution. There is only about 30 to 40 pounds of waste from 4,000 meals, which is remarkable,” said Robarge. Robarge also plans on purchasing as much local and organic food as the food budget allows. “There is no budget increase due to the economy, but every year we are going to try and increase the purchase of local and organic foods by five percent,” said Robarge. “[Paresky Commons’s] efforts for sustainability are impressive,” said Trisha Macrae ’09. Other changes in Paresky include the purchase of new highchairs for faculty children, stainless steel waffle makers, new cups and bowls and a three-week menu cycle. According to Robarge, the new tables underwent a series of tests including bending and stretching to ensure that they were durable for frequent use. Paresky Commons staff members also underwent extensive culinary training to prepare for the transition. “Aramark provides us with station training such as grill-works training, deli and salad bar training and hearth oven training,” said Robarge. Some students cited efficiency during busy meal hours as a prime concern in the new space. According to Robarge, the dining halls did not undergo any structural changes, which means that the original capacity remains to serve over 1,000 people. “Students are going to develop a system, and we are going to work on systems,” Robarge said. “We are working diligently on our website and to send out daily menus. We want students to know what’s for lunch beforehand, which will lead to less roaming around.” “Hopefully the students know what to do so that [the process of getting food] goes more efficiently,” said Macrae. Burwell said, “It’s a little complicated when you’re trying to get food. It’s really spread out.” “It’s been really hectic because it’s the first few days, but when the staff and the students get more accustomed, [it will become less hectic],” said Meghan Collins ’11. The upper and lower serving facilities in Paresky Commons are now specialized for different types of foods, as opposed to the old layout in which four dining halls served the same foods. John Maier, Instructor in Spanish, said, “[Serving different foods at different stations] is convenient because you can either grab things quickly or get things custom made.” Robarge said that each serving area is designed to cook and serve different meal options. “The different food in different dining halls is definitely taking a while to get used to but gives people a chance to appreciate the different halls,” said Khan. “As with anything new, it will take time to get used to knowing where things are,” said Lani Silversides, Instructor in Math. The general student and faculty response to the new Commons has been positive, however. Trisha Macrae ’09 said that the dining hall is much brighter and the stairwells are more open than the old space. She said, “It’s really nice to be in a beautiful dining facility coming right off of spring break.” Nadine Khan ’09 said, “The food is definitely a step up from Uncommons.” “[The lower left dining hall] is really comfortable and pretty quiet,” said Sam Burwell ’09. “I like the casual nature, and it is interesting to see the couches and the high tables [in lower left],” said Maier. He said that the new design was similar enough that the space is familiar. The temporarily named ‘Den,’ formerly Ryley Room, located in the basement of Commons, is also popular among students, especially Seniors. “I’ve already been [to the Den] for the past two days,” said Burwell. “I think it’s really convenient how it has detergent and batteries, so we don’t have to run all the way down to CVS. [The staff] really thought it through and gave us more [food options].” “The Seniors are so lucky to have [the Den] for the spring,” Khan said. “On the first night, there were so many people just having a good time.” Landscaping and construction on the playground next to Commons will be completed later this spring, according to Robarge.