New Dining Commons addition opens a month late

The McCarthy Center Dining Commons addition, which was scheduled to open Sept. 1, opened on Sept. 25.

The final cost of the addition is approximately $3.4 million.

It is located behind the McCarthy College Center where there was once a small hill of grass and trees and adds approximately 210 seats to the Dining Commons. There are also two restrooms in the new addition.

According to Associate Vice President of Facilities and Capital Planning Warren Fairbanks, the main reason for the delay was the discovery of contaminated soil at the construction site. In the soil, there was “some type of diesel fuel … probably the remains of an underground fuel tank that was located on the property before the College Center was ever built,” said Fairbanks.

“We had to excavate all the contaminated soil and then take it to an asphalt plant. That triggers a … environmental procedure whenever you find things like that, so it slowed things down a bit,” Fairbanks said.

This process resulted in a cost overrun of $330,000.  Money left over from projects in Towers, Larned, and O’Connor halls completed during the summer of 2013 was used to pay this unexpected expense, according to Executive Vice President Dale Hamel.

Fairbanks said, “We were doing three projects this summer … so there was a larger pool of money, so we were able to take money that we saved from those projects and transfer it into this project.”

Despite the delay from the contaminated soil, the opening of the Dining Commons addition was “a bit out of our hands,” Hamel said. “It was all dependent on the building inspector, which was dependent on the plumbing inspector.”

The initial plan for the parking lot behind the McCarthy Center was to patch up the parking spots that were damaged by the construction. However, this discovery of contaminated soil forced the construction crew to excavate the entire parking lot.

The crew was able to re-arrange the parking lot and add two spaces. “The end result is positive,” Fairbanks said.

The Dining Commons addition is intended to relieve some of the congestion in the current dining area, Hamel said. “It provides both additional seating and back office space for preparation. As it adds a number of new seats, there will be some seating in the current dining hall reduced to alleviate how tight the spaces are. Booth seating will be put in along the far wall.”

Funding for the dining hall addition came primarily from $2.4 million in revenue bonds from the Massachusetts State College Building Authority. “This is where you issue bonds and have to pay them back,” Hamel said. A contribution of $950,000 came from a food service contract with Sodexo. An additional $400,000 came from the university’s annual operating budget.

Sophomore Heather Howard, an undeclared student, said it was “much easier to find a table. The lines seemed about as heavy as usual, but I went at 6:30 p.m. and it’s usually crowded at that time anyways.”

Morgan Zabinski, a sophomore food and nutrition major, also addressed peak hours in the cafeteria. “It is usually really busy at this time, so compared to what it used to be, it is a lot better.”

Senior psychology major Monique LaPierre said, “The addition definitely alleviated time spent searching for a table. I think that rectangle tables would have been more logical to place in the addition, because rectangle tables can be utilized by multiple parties, whereas with circular tables, different groups of students will not typically share a table.”

Frank Legere, a sophomore criminology major, said, “It wasn’t as hard finding a seat,” after the addition opened, “but trying to get food was outrageous.”

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