Commons Returns to 7 p.m. Closing time

Rowers, dancers and those who just like eating late in the evening can breathe a sigh of relief—PA administrators restored Paresky Commons’ dinner hours back to a seven o’clock closing time after a brief attempt to cut operation costs. Commons, which usually opens for dinner from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m., briefly adopted a 6:30 p.m. closing time for dinner service last week. But Paul Robarge, General Manager of Dining Services, emailed the PA community last Thursday to announce the return to the 7:00 p.m. closing time. While Commons and Uncommons were open until 7 p.m. last year, the Senior Administrative Council decided to move the closing time to 6:30 p.m. for financial reasons. A half-hour shorter dinner time would have saved the school $24,000 a term, as outlined by last spring’s administrative decision to cut departmental budgets. “Because of the downturn in the economy, we have needed to reduce the budget by finding savings in as many areas as possible that seem feasible. It is due to the seven percent budget cut requested of all departments,” said Steve Carter, Chief Financial and Operating Officer. Maureen Nunez, Director of Business Services, and Rebecca Sykes, Associate Head of School, both influenced the decision to move the dining hall’s closing time back to 7:00 p.m. “Clubs and activities moved to a later time period and they weren’t over until 6:15 or so, so people didn’t have time to eat,” Carter said. “Therefore, I consulted with Mrs. Nunez and Paul Robarge and we decided to move [the closing time] back to seven and hope to look for savings somewhere else.” After hearing feedback from faculty about the closing time, Paul Murphy, Dean of Students and Residential life, described the decision as “fairly easy.” Murphy said that the negative feedback he received was mostly from faculty. “I got a lot of feedback from many areas on campus that said [the new closing time] was really tough [to accommodate],” Murphy said. He continued, “I don’t think [returning to seven] was a hard decision. This was one of those situations where we listened and said ‘We’re going to go back [to last year’s hours.] It’s going to cost us more, because the cost is still there of course, but we’ll find those dollars somewhere else,”’ said Murphy. “We looked at where we were and [keeping the closing time at 6:30] wasn’t a battle worth fighting, quite honestly,” Carter said. According to Nunez, many staff members transition to working on an overtime salary between 6:30 and 7:00, which accounts for a steeper increase in labor expenses. Nunez said they have not decided where the $24,000 will be cut from the rest of the budget. “Since we put that money back [into Commons hours,] then we’ll need to look across Commons…to try and find savings to make up for it. If you give here you have to take some place else, but [the savings] may not necessarily even come out of Commons. It may be from something else on campus,” said Nunez. “[The reduction of Commons hours was] part of a bigger picture for the school trying to find ways to cut the budget. In a school like this you’ve got labor, you’ve got food, you’ve got electricity, you’ve got supplies, you’ve got bottled water. Everything from small things to big things,” Murphy said. “It’s a weird time to be here. There’s usually money for everything, but it’s not like that anymore,” Murphy continued. Prior to the Commons renovations, only one of the four dining rooms would stay open until 7:00 p.m., said Murphy. The other three halls closed at 6:30 p.m. “We pushed [the closing time] to 7:00 when we went to Uncommons because it just made sense. We were going to an inferior facility, and we thought, ‘At least we can tell people that dinner’s open until seven.’ Now we’re in this much more expensive building and trying to save some money,” Murphy said. Originally, the Senior Administrative Council did not think the 6:30 closing time would be a problem. “We were trying to pare back [the closing time] in small pieces. We kept [Commons] open to seven on Wednesdays and Saturdays because of sports, but we didn’t think of some things like dance that go beyond 6:00,” said Carter. Some students are relieved about the return of a two-hour dining period. Serena Gelb ’10 brought up her displeasure with the 6:30 closing time to Clyfe Beckwith, Flagstaff Cluster Dean. “I was so unhappy [with the earlier closure] that I talked to [Beckwith]. I basically told him that I didn’t think the new hours made sense. 6:30 is so impractical for athletes or people involved with theater and dance. Sometimes I even run to Commons at seven on the dot for dinner. At home I eat from seven to eight, so dinner by 6:30 just seems too early,” Gelb said. Nalani Oines ’12, a member of Girls Varsity Crew and participant in Fall Instructional Crew, said, “The shorter hours were really annoying because I’m usually pretty hungry after working hard at Crew, and we would have so little time to eat after we got back.” “The new hours didn’t completely conflict, but they would have once the spring sports season started,” Oines said. “I am thrilled that they changed the hours back. It’s a lot more convenient and really nice for athletes to be able to eat dinner. I’m on the water polo team, and I’m sure that I would have missed dinner for away games,” said Ben Morris ’11. Murphy was not surprised by these responses. “Even I’m happy with more time to eat. Everyone loves more. More is better, but we have to remember that more is expensive,” he said.