AIC’s New Dining Commons sets the Table for Change
On Sept. 2, the day the new AIC Dining Commons opened for business, sophomore Zach Bednarczyk and several of his friends woke up early.
“We wanted to be the first ones there,” there,” the secondary-education major says, “and we actually were.”
The revamped facility surpassed their expectations.
“It was hard to believe it was the same building,” Bednarczyk says. “It’s a very modern setup. Personally, I love it.”
The reimagining of AIC’s dining space—its first full renovation since 1966—has been in the works for some time, according to Floyd Young, vice president for campus services. But it was input from students that finally moved plans for an update to the front burner.
“The administration has been looking at upgrades to student spaces for a few years,” Young says, “but actually it was the feedback from student surveys and focus groups that really brought this to light as something that was needed to improve students’ time at college and their experience here.”
Innovations include a wider array of food options, customized meal preparation, an emphasis on interaction between students and dining staff, and a “Mongolian Grill” that also serves as an exhibition kitchen. There is also a wood-fired pizza oven, high-top and grill-side seating, and a new layout designed to be both more efficient and more inviting.
“The new dining commons is a place to eat, share, relax, and come together as the AIC family in a more comfortable and modern setting,” Young says. “It’s a state-of-the-art facility designed to serve the needs and expectations of today’s students.”
According to Young, goals for the new space include greater transparency—allowing students to see food being prepared—and features designed to encourage greater awareness and healthier choices.
“We wanted to get students more involved and more conscious of the food they’re eating and healthy lifestyles,” Young says, “so we have a ‘live, learn’ station where they can talk to chefs about the foods they’re selecting and the choices they’re making.”
Students have taken note.
“Personalizing the stations is a nice touch,” says junior Stephanie Cady, a nursing major, “and it’s nice to have the signs that say ‘local’ and ‘organic.’ It stands out because there’s so much controversy about genetically modified food these days. I think it makes a big difference, especially in our age group.”
Cady’s classmate and fellow nursing student Nicole Paquette agrees: “It’s more organized now and easier to navigate,” she says, “and we love the salad bar!”
Connecticut builders Orlando Annulli and Sons broke ground on the $9.4 million project in December 2014, working from plans by architects at Phase Zero Design. As work progressed, staff from Chartwells, AIC’s dining-services vendor, completed food preparation and cooking in trailers and set up a temporary dining area in the Schwartz Campus Center. The Bradley Room became a food-service line, with seating in the auditorium.
Now that the new commons is up and running, students enjoy salads, burgers, sandwiches, and meals made to order and prepared in front of them in a spacious, multi-level hall flooded with natural light. The new facility comes equipped with an environmentally friendly waste-processing system and updated wiring to allow for further expansion and the use of generators in case of a power outage.
The bottom line? According to Bednarczyk, “There’s no more crowding. And the pizza is absolutely delicious.”
-By Abe Loomis