The Cavalier Daily
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O-Whole new world of dining

O-Hell, Ocrappatory Hill, O-Thrill - anything but O-Hill. Dining Services hopes to do away with this dining hall's less-than-flattering nicknames once and for all. A projected $8 million year-long renovation of Observatory Hill Dining Hall is scheduled to begin in August, featuring a virtual makeover of the entire building from the inside out.

Putting all their ideas together, Dining Services managers, planners and students have worked on giving the frequently ridiculed dining hall a total facelift. Through collaboration, many of the project's original objectives have been met, especially Director of Dining Services Edward Gutauskas' desire to increase seating capacity and the students' ongoing plea for better food selection. Current floor plans will add 300 more seats to the existing dining facility and a variety of new foods to the menu.

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    The expansion will bring in a few new culinary items, including a grill, rotisserie chicken station and an ethnic bar. Existing food venues, such as the deli, pizza/pasta bar and salad bar, all will be expanded to offer greater variety and appeal to more students.

    Another objective that soon will become a reality is making the kitchen more visible by moving much of the food production closer to the serving lines.

    "Part of [Dining Services'] vision is to have you see them prepare the foods," first-year College student Jenny Chow said. Chow was one of the students selected to participate in the roundtable discussion.

    Although many of the renovations are taking place on the building's main floor, those involved with the project have not forgotten the rest of the building. The basement of the dining hall will be transformed into an underground equivalent of the Treehouse, serving as home to a Pizza Hut and Grille Works like the current Plus-Dollar locale. A New York style deli will be added to the dining options, along with new, healthier choices at Grille Works. Building designers are still considering the possibility of adding a small coffee shop to the basement.

    An expanded version of the Root Cellar will bring in more aisles of grocery items and greater conveniences to first years without driving privileges.

    When renovation is complete, the Treehouse will be officially closed, consolidating dining venues in the Alderman Road area into the O-Hill structure.

    The extensive changes will take nearly all of next year to finish. In the process, hundreds of students, particularly first years, will be somewhat limited by O-Hill's closing.

    To make up for the construction complications, a temporary satellite dining facility will be open for business. Students will be able to dine at the W-6 parking lot located at the end of the Astronomy building across from Webb house. Details regarding the temporary dining hall are still being worked out, and the structure is expected to go up sometime this summer.

    Although the timeline for construction is not set in stone, diners can expect to stay in the smaller dining hall for anywhere from a semester to a year. According to Chow, however, it will be worth the wait.

    "The whole building will look so much nicer. They're going to add a lot more lighting and new furniture," Chow said. "They're even considering adding a fireside area where students can study."

    The added lighting especially appeals to first-year College student Erin Conger.

    "They need to put more lighting up in this place," Conger said, pointing to rows of burnt-out bulbs overhead. "O-Hill has no lighting, especially at night."

    With a more comfortable building design and increased menu options, Chow still believes something is missing.

    "Even though there was some discussion about adding more wraps to the menu, [Dining Services] didn't seem very vegetarian-oriented," Chow said.

    Like Chow, first-year College student Chudney Youngs is excited about the building's new design, but hopes that more emphasis will be placed on improving food quality.

    "By making the building look better, they're just hoping that the dining hall food will magically get better too," Youngs said. "There wasn't enough talk [at the planning meetings] about how the food will actually change."

    Others hope Dining Services will take into consideration not only what type of food is prepared, but also how it is served to the diners. Second-year College student Heath Boucek believes that self-serve lines will add to both diner satisfaction and efficiency.

    "I'm 20 years old," Boucek said. "I know how much I can eat. I should be able to serve myself."

    Like many students involved with the renovation plans, Chow applauds Dining Service's efforts.

    "I think the renovation is going to be needed," Chow said. "The way the plans are situated is much more efficient. It's just a better layout."

    Two weeks ago, Dining Services invited selected First-Year Council members along with various Student Council representatives to take part in a roundtable discussion. On two separate evenings, groups of 20 students gathered to review plans for the renovation and provide additional student input.

    The students were a "tremendous help with what would be popular and what would work for students," Gutauskas said.

    Dining Services made an effort to include students in the decision-making process from the beginning, not simply limiting their involvement to the renovation's final planning stages. Some students were asked to take trips to look at recently renovated dining facilities at Duke, Virginia Tech and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

    Fourth-year Engineering student Hope Breskman and third-year College student Molly Holtman were invited to travel with Gustauskas and a group of University architects to UNC at Chapel Hill last spring. Breskman and Holtman serve as co-chairs of the Dining Affairs committee, a branch of Student Council.

    The whirlwind tour of UNC's dining halls, renovated two years earlier, took place in one day, with a small private jet transporting the planners. According to Holtman, she and Breskman had an important role to fill.

    "We were there to offer the student perspective on what students would like and what they would dislike," Holtman said.

    At a Student Council meeting last week, Holtman and others had a chance to review the latest version of the floor plans.

    "A couple of items in the floor plans look very familiar," Holtman said. "We liked the brick ovens UNC dining halls used to make pizza, and those were included in the plans."

    While Breskman and Holtman were able to have a significant impact on the early plans, some students who took part in the discussion group felt as if their voice was not very important in the process.

    "They pretty much had everything planned when we went to the meeting," Youngs said. "They asked for our opinions at the end, but I don't know if they'll actually use anything we said."

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