With the beginning of construction of Thacher’s new dining hall, rumors about its timeline and architecture have been circulating Thacher’s campus. Although many students, faculty, and staff have fond memories of the current dining hall, it is finally time to share the details of the new, modern building that should be finished by June of 2019.
Mr. Bennett, Director of Facilities, said that construction, which began last January, will consist mainly of groundwork for the first three months. This April or May, buildings will start to appear between the upper tennis courts and the current dining hall. According to Mr. Bennett, the construction timeline is dependent on the weather and county approval time frames. June of 2019, he says, is the “late finish date.”
The new dining hall will maintain Thacher’s rustic, western appeal, while upgrading our eating space to a more modern and open environment. Mr. Bennett says that the building will be “barn-like with the form of the roof, but the south-facing wall is almost all glass and the west is almost all glass, so it’s a very open design.” The structure will reflect its surroundings, with a flat green roof to blend in with nearby trees and windows that use electrochromic glass designed to block unwanted light from the sun that enters the current dining hall before dinner. There will be improved air conditioning in the new dining hall and the ceiling will slope down from twenty feet to ten feet in height, with a material designed to improve acoustics—the material reflects less than ten percent of sound back down tables, improving conversations during formal dinner. There will be twice as much space in the seating area, so moving through the crowded tables should be less difficult. More outdoor seating will also be available, with a porch on the southern end of the dining hall and ten or twelve more tables on the western edge. There will be a garden next to the western side of the building that the dining hall staff will use to grow herbs for mixing into dishes.
The kitchen and serving stations will have massive upgrades, with a new kitchen three times the size of the current one and a large serving area. The serving stations have been carefully engineered to allow students to get food quickly and efficiently during lunch. The new dining hall will serve many of the same dishes in an exhibition kitchen with more serving lines, larger salad and deli bars, more space to order hot foods, and two soups everyday, giving the community more daily choices. With more seating and preparation space, the dining hall will more easily be able to host events such as Family Weekend, Grandparents Day, Gymkhana Weekend, and various alumni events “in a way that’s better for everyone to enjoy the experience,” says Mr. Bennett. He also notes, “to provide more variety, we need a bigger kitchen. What those guys do today in that kitchen down there today is nothing short of amazing, so they’re going to have a space that is at least three times larger than they have now, with respect to space to prepare the food and that sort of thing.” The dining hall staff will be more comfortable in the new kitchen with better climate control, as there are many days when the current kitchen is ninety degrees or hotter, especially during the Fall. The new kitchen will also be on one level, which will make bringing in deliveries and taking out garbage easier for the staff.
Outside the new dining hall, there will be a flat, grass-filled area and a new assembly space to replace the current steps coming down from the Pergola. The grassy area will be large enough to host graduation and alumni events, which will “make [the kitchen staff’s] lives a lot easier,” according to Mr. Maxwell, the Dining Hall Director, because the kitchen staff will no longer have to transport large quantities of food, plates, and utensils across campus for these special events. The open space outside the dining hall will also allow for a stunning view of the Ojai Valley, keeping the iconic sunsets we are able to see today. Mr. Bennett says, “It’s really not just about the building, it’s also about how we’re transforming the center of campus there,” referring to the new assembly area and open space intended to host many of Thacher’s important events and traditions.
The old dining hall will remain intact, with a renovation to its lower floor and a possible removal of the kitchen. If the kitchen is removed, there will be a patio where it is currently located and a second entrance to the building, which will have a new interior and exterior. Likewise, its construction will adhere to the Secretary of the Interior historical standards. The offices in Olympus will stay where they are, but what will go inside the lower floor of the building is still undecided; however, as soon as the new dining hall is finished, the old dining hall and kitchen will become temporary classrooms. In order to build a new “Creativity and Technology Building” in place of the current humanities building, the School needs classroom space during its construction. The old dining hall, with a few walls put up and new air conditioning, will be practical to serve that function. Although many alumni, students, and faculty will fondly remember the old dining hall, the new dining hall will begin to create some of its own and, as Mr. Maxwell says, “I’m hoping that it still has it’s rustic charm even though it’s new. I hope that stays the same and kids feel welcome.”