Out with the old and in with the new

An undated photograph of the dining hall's exterior shows how little change has happened. Archival Photograph courtesy of Bonnie LaForge
An undated photograph of the dining hall’s exterior shows how little change has happened. Archival Photograph courtesy of Bonnie LaForge

By Natalie Osuna ’17 – May 10th, 2014

The time has come to renovate the dining hall.

Both literally and metaphorically, the beloved dining hall is located at the center of the campus; it is the place where students eat with friends, meet with teachers, or simply stop by to snatch one of Robin’s famous cookies.

Headmaster Michael Mulligan describes it as “the heart of the school and center of life here.”

The dining hall also has historical significance.

On December 1, 1979, Elizabeth Thacher, Sherman Day Thacher’s daughter, delivered A Short History of the Thacher Dining Room at a Trustees Banquet dedication. In it, she remarked, “[the] main building was built in 1895 after the disastrous fire in June of that year.”

Although parts of that original building still remain today, there have been significant renovations since it was built. However, the last renovation was roughly 60 years ago.

As Richard Maxwell, head of dining hall, put it, “the 50s design is out-of-date.”

The dining hall that once served about 125 students has become unsuitable for the current student body of nearly 260 students.

Two recent renovations to both the Casa and Hill dormitories have inspired the latest Strategic Plan for the Dining Hall. The plan outlines a similar approach taken with the dormitory renovations.

Thacher’s dormitories now embody the School’s ethos and mission as never before, connecting indoors and outdoors, advancing an agenda of sustainability, and facilitating the patterns of close-knit residential life that form the foundation of our program.

Unfortunately, the process of renovation is not simple.

As Mr. Mulligan explained, “the building is not up to code with respect to earthquake or fire [codes].”

In order to renovate part of the building, the county demands that the entire building be renovated. In the words of Mr. Mulligan, “if you’re going to fix anything, you’re going to have to do everything. [This] is a challenge because we don’t necessarily want to do everything.”

Dining Room 1965Renovating the entire building could bring exciting improvements, but would require more funds and careful planning as opposed to renovating only specific parts. Moreover, the newly renovated building must ideally serve the school for another century with minimal maintenance.

Possible changes include making the serving area a larger part of the dining area, expanding the kitchen, making the dish disposal area cleaner and more efficient, and building a receiving facility near the entrance of the school.

Mr. Mulligan believes, “the kitchen is extremely crowded. They don’t have enough storage space, [and] they don’t have enough delivery space. All the food preparation areas are very constricted.”

The proposal to move the storage facility near the entrance of the school would remove what Mr. Mulligan describes as a “cancerous appendage in back” where trucks deliver food. Instead of having trucks drive through campus, they would simply deliver to the facility. In addition, this would allow for expansion of both the kitchen and dining area.

Designers are currently working to draft more efficient dish disposal procedures.

Mr. Mulligan mentioned, “the dish disposal area where people take the dishes into the wall is very antiquated and chaotic and dirty.”

Serafina Nieves ’17 echoed Mr. Mulligan’s sentiments in a recent personal interview.

When everyone is trying to put dishes away, a big cluster forms where people are bumping around each other and spilling food.

Chuck Evans, Head of Maintenance, believes the project could be extensive and time-consuming.

Based on other projects and guessing on the potential scope of the Dining Hall project, I would estimate that construction would take 18 to 24 months.

Dining Hall lunch 1970Before construction can begin, appropriate funding must be raised. Brandon Doyle, Director of Development, estimates that construction will not happen for another five years. The planning committee is currently in the planning stage, deciding what to keep and what to improve.

The input of residents is crucial in this area, as it will allow the planning committee to better understand what will best serve the Thacher community.

Costs for renovation come from individuals such as alumni, parents, or friends of the Thacher community. The cost for maintenance of existing buildings is part of the maintenance budget.

Once the appropriate funds are raised and an architectural plan is in place, a temporary cafeteria will most likely be set up on the upper tennis courts across from the gymnasium. Part of the Strategic Plan is to relocate all tennis courts adjacent to the soccer field. The dining hall itself will be defined by large tents, and will still be conveniently at the center of campus.

This is certainly a project for the long-run, but it is one Thacher residents will be a part of every step of the way.

As Mr. Mulligan quipped, “we’re going to have to eat this apple one bite at a time.”