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Serving up sustainability: Western Dining Commons opens its doors

By Jenna Tiller
On April 3, 2014

For the past several semesters, Miami's campus has been a flurry of loud and fenced-off construction sites. On Sunday March 30, however, another new building finally opened its doors to students; the new Western Dining Commons.

Miami faculty watched nervously and excitedly as a disjointed stream of students entered the building for the first several meals, making last-minute adjustments to the layout and checking that everything was stocked. In spite of weather delays that almost pushed back the opening date, Miami staff is thrilled to see how students react to the newest campus addition.

Located just west of Havighurst Hall and to the east of the pedestrian bridge, the Western Dining Commons is 46,000 square feet, seats 675 students, and hopes to be one of the more sustainable buildings on campus.

According to Senior Director of Dining & Culinary Support Services Nancy Heidtman, the way the dining hall will run this year is not the way it will operate next fall. As of now, the building includes three venues: the Greystone market, the Tea Hive, and a buffet-style variety of options.

The Greystone is similar to other markets at on campus with only a few marked differences; it features a relatively large section of allergy-friendly and organic foods compared to the market at Alexander. Additionally, the Tea Hive, a café-style venue, is a completely new concept on campus. Students can purchase a variety of teas by the cup or pot, a selection of Starbucks products, bakery items, and an assortment of sandwiches at the a-la-carte location.

This year, the buffet offers very similar options to the recently-closed Alexander. The Spice of Life international station is still open, as are Miami Spice, Vine Dining and Miami Traditions, the Campus Grill and the salad bar.

Next year however, the Western Dining Commons will be completely re-done. Executive Chef Eric Yung said the most notable difference is that it will no longer be a buffet location, but a Bell Tower-type a-la-carte venue. Instead of a traditional buffet salad-bar, the ever popular Traders Greens will be implemented. Additionally, the Spice of Life will feature completely different options, and the Campus Grill will be converted into a Grill and Roast area where students can obtain various slow-roasted meats and vegetables, as well as a quick and custom pasta area.

The most unique addition is that of an allergy-friendly bar opening next fall. It will feature food free of the eight most common allergies - gluten, tree nuts, nuts, dairy, shellfish, egg, fish and soy. Yung said the main goal was to provide peace of mind for students who have to worry about the food they eat daily.

"There is there is nothing in that station that they can't eat... they certainly don't want to stand out, so this gives them the opportunity to be with friends and eat the kinds of food they need to eat" Yung said.

In addition to being the most allergy-friendly dining hall on campus, the building will also be one of the most sustainable.

"Sustainability and energy efficiency was forefront in the minds of everyone involved in the building design," said Connie McCarthy, the head project architect. Miami is hoping to achieve a silver LEED certification for the building.

Upon completion, the Western Dining Commons will exhibit multiple energy-saving features. Daylight harvesting, or the adjustment of the lighting system based on the amount of natural sunlight available, is one technique being used. Additionally, McCarthy said a high percentage of the light fixtures will be LED, which reduces the amount of energy needed. All the food preparation technology is Energy Star to conserve more energy as well. The Western Dining Commons is also first building tied into the new Geothermal Plant being constructed on Western Campus, and has a green roof to aid with heat and cool air retention.

Part of the decision to make the Western Dining Commons an a-la-carte dining location stemmed from the desire to reduce food waste and manage cost, Heidtman said. Food waste is more easily controlled in this type of location because more food is prepared for the individual consumer as opposed to the massive pans of food that are constantly changed at buffets. To aid with this goal, several pulpers capable of reducing 200lbs of food waste to 20lbs have been implemented, and will be used on all food scraps. Additionally, Heidtman said that students have shown a desire to eat lighter and healthier, which is what they intend to provide with next year's setup.

Construction of the facility began in October of 2012, and the project was originally scheduled for completion on Jan. 1, 2014. According to Connie McCarthy, the senior project architect, the delay was largely due to the weather.

"Last fall, a decision was made to add exterior paving to the project," McCarthy said. "While it was hoped that this work could be completed by January, the harsh winter conditions did not allow it to occur until recently. Weather has had an impact on all exterior construction across campus this winter."

However, the dining hall did make its March 30 opening date, and has been fully functional since. Heidtman said so far, the dining hall has been a success.

"The best thing is, when you see students walk in with a smile on their face," Heidtman said. "Then you know you got it right."


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