By Yardain Amron, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 2, 2013
North Campus-ers feeling left out from the dizzying residence-hall renovations on Central Campus will soon have their own to boast about — albeit on a smaller scale.
The Commons Café is scheduled to close for renovations in March as part of a larger, campus-wide project to update student facilities initiated by Building a Better Michigan, a student-run organization created to advise renovations across campus.
Through 2020, the project hopes to bring improvements to aging facilities including Mitchell Field, the three recreational sports buildings and two of the three unions.
Built in 1965, Pierpont Commons has apparently lost much of its student appeal. Through information from student surveys distributed by Building a Better Michigan, dissatisfaction with the food options and usable study and organizational spaces became apparent.
“(Pierpont Commons) doesn’t offer healthy, affordable and attractive dining options,” LSA senior Louis Mirante, co-chair of Building a Better Michigan, said. “It doesn’t facilitate academic, social or physical well-being to the degree that it should.”
Renovations to the café hope to address this by offering an increased variety in food choices and better study space.
Four new, restaurant-like serving areas will bring in a range of quality cuisine, such as those found in the recently renovated dining hall of East Quad Residence Hall. A ‘Fire & Ice’ station is in talks to serve freshly-prepared Ramen or stir-fry; a hearth-oven station will serve gourmet flat-bread pizzas and freshly baked bread; an international cuisine station will invite a variety of foreign flavors provided by local Ann Arbor vendors; and an expanded salad and soup bar will offer grab-n-go and personalized options.
Keith Soster, food service director for the University Unions, currently heads operations at the Commons Café and has played a large role in the renovation plans.
“The nice thing about these four individual restaurant-type concepts is the stations are designed to be versatile,” Soster said. “So that as the trends or needs or desires of the students change, we can help modify the menu.”
The café’s cafeteria-like dining area will also get a face-lift. Tall stools, booths and soft lounge seating will be added to the standard cafeteria tables and chairs.
An additional 60 to 70 seats will be fitted in the dining area to accommodate an influx of student traffic and create a more conducive environment for group and individual study over longer periods of time.
“That whole space will lend itself to great opportunities for collaborations for students,” Soster said.
Mitchell Field will be renovated alongside the café with a focus on improving lighting, constructing a support building for Rec Sports staff and creating a student space for intramural and club teams.
The total project cost to renovate Mitchell Field, the three recreational sports facilities, Pierpont Commons and the Michigan Union is estimated at $174 million. A $65-per-semester student fee will be implemented in fall 2014 to pay for the projects. Nearly 22 percent of the revenue from the student fee will be converted into financial aid.
A poll conducted by Building a Better Michigan poll in 2012 found broad support for the fee, which was approved by the University's Board of Regents in April.
"(Support for the fee) is not a minority opinion, and the University is offering financial help to the people who are going to need it,” Mirante said.