University News

Talks underway for Ratty renovation

Five years after discussion started, formal proposals and preliminary plans begin to take shape

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Sharpe Refectory has not been renovated in more than five decades and lacks sufficient seating to accommodate an increasing student body.

The Sharpe Refectory is set to receive several upgrades as part of campus planning efforts outlined in President Christina Paxson’s P’19 strategic plan, but a timeline remains undecided, administrators said.

Administrators envision the Ratty becoming “more of a modern dining experience, rather than a 1950s cafeteria,” Provost Vicki Colvin said. The Ratty renovation is projected to be one of the University’s most expensive undertakings, because all the “guts” of the building need to be updated, she added.

“The infrastructure of electrical, plumbing, heating and ventilation would need an upgrade,” said Richard Bova, senior associate dean of residential life and dining services. The food delivery model is also outdated, and updating it would allow the Ratty to serve fresher meals, he added.

The Ratty has not been renovated in more than 50 years, and its capacity to prepare food also strains to match its seating capacity said UCS President Maahika Srinivasan ’15.

The Office of Residential Life has held student focus groups and administered student surveys to pinpoint undergraduate desires for the renovation, Bova said. Some of the key findings were that students would like meals to be “prepared in front of them” using “the freshest, most locally sourced” ingredients that they could select themselves, he added.

Srinivasan said she is often bored by the culinary offerings, noting that “we’re looking at four days in a row of serving grilled cheese.”

One proposal Bova articulated at a UCS meeting last year involves adding different types of cuisine to more stations, Srinivasan said.

Bova also suggested creating a seating plan that would allow students both on and off meal plan to sit together, she said.

Within UCS, Srinivasan has been considering how to provide seating that “accommodates many people’s needs,” she added.

The University could also move food preparation facilities off site, Bova said. But administrators will most likely not execute that particular change because of monetary costs, as well as the environmental toll of transportation, Colvin said.

One of the largest questions facing both the administration and the student body centers on the Ratty’s role in student life.

There is debate over whether the Ratty should be remodeled to attract both underclassmen and upperclassmen — who are often off meal plan — or to strengthen its appeal for first-years and sophomores, Colvin said.

This debate is especially relevant at Brown compared to peer institutions, she said. “So much of the social life of students is actually being defined by their extracurriculars or their classroom environment. At other institutions, like Princeton, it’s all about the eating clubs.”

The overhaul of the Ratty will follow the closure of the eatery the Gate and the rejuvenation of Andrews Commons.

So far, none of the proposals to renovate the Ratty have been implemented. But “we’ve been talking about doing something with the Ratty for a long time, and people are looking to move with this,” Srinivasan said.

A previous version of this article stated that the cost of renovating Andrews Commons was $56 million. In fact, that figure is the total amount for a two-year renovation of residence halls and dining facilities. The Herald regrets the error.

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  1. What about upgrading the Ratty so that Brown can serve meals on-line and help feed the next Albert Einstein who is currently somewhere in Africa?

  2. What exactly is a “modern dining experience”? Is no one concerned for preservation? As Ms Colvin said, the Ratty is a beautiful example of a “1950s cafeteria”. The symmetrical layout, the unique lofty ceilings, the fan windows, the soft colour scheme of brown and beige. As seems to be frequent around here, we ought be prepared for more of the same “modern” no-character cookie-cutter rubbish that has enveloped such places as the Andrews Commons. Are we to find ourselves in a whitewashed hellhole of impractical and uncomfortable furniture? Will more of our history be erased? Please “administrators”, feel free to upgrade the “guts”. Do not, however, think about destroying what little character Brown’s public spaces have left.

    • I couldn’t agree more. Why does Brown insist uniformly on removing grandeur and history from its renovated buildings and substituting “modern” furniture and design. It looks cheap, it has zero character, and it demeans historic buildings. Raise the money, and do it right.

  3. any renovation is fine- just keep the giant early 80’s photo of the smiling besties in short shorts! that is a time-honored classic.

  4. I think Brown should just move along and get the Ratty renovation completed. Too much talk and too much input about something that is frankly not that complicated. Just modernize the facility and make it fresh and invting, but no need to build the next “state of the art” facility. I think $56 million for Andrews Common sounds like a poor use of resources. This is not a difficult decision to make. We are not building a rocket! The key is to determine where the students will dine while the Ratty is out of service…..

  5. I recently ate there with my son (Class of ’17). Remarkably it hadn’t changed since the 80’s when I was a student. For me, that was cool. Any renovation should respect the “1950s cafeteria” aesthetic while making some nods to increased comfort. But please no “food court” style.. what’s cool about that? Also showing some re$traint with the budget for this would be welcome..

  6. “The Office of Residential Life has held student focus groups and administered student surveys to pinpoint undergraduate desires for the renovation, Bova said. Some of the key findings were that students would like meals to be “prepared in front of them” using “the freshest, most locally sourced” ingredients that they could select themselves, he added.”

  7. Heaven forbid we be bored. The only renovations needed are those that make things easier for our dining services staff.

    Also bathrooms that don’t need to be gender swapped for large events, because that always confused me.

  8. Maybe they should take fewer students.

  9. While I’m not a big fan of the lunch-rush crowds or the current setup for getting food, I do prefer the preservation of some sense of place from decades past to the calculated “freshness” of Andrews. When I think of College Hill, I think of places like the Fleet Library, the Jolly Roger, Machado House, and the Athenaeum, which have all managed to transition more seamlessly into the 21st century while maintaining warmth and character.

  10. Alums and students alike can rightfully point to the Ratty as a metaphor for the incompetent administration at Brown.

  11. SarekOfVulcan says:

    You know, there were things I tried there that I never would have gone with if I had been able to order whatever I wanted from my favorite station, like I can at a lot of “modern” college cafeterias. I _like_ the old style. 🙂

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