The Verney-Woolley Dining Hall underwent more than $3 million in renovations over the summer, adding new seating, food storage and amenities, according to dining and construction employees involved with the project.
Students entering the dining hall this fall will encounter a new, well-lit dining area that seats around 50, vinyl tiles covering once-carpeted floors and, by the end of the week, an allergy-free pantry.
The kitchen now boasts a larger cooler and freezer and a new, energy-efficient dishwasher. Last fall, dining hall workers criticized the kitchen’s lack of storage space, The Herald previously reported.
With construction originally budgeted at $1.8 million, renovations kicked off at the beginning of the summer and, with little time to spare, mostly finished by the start of the semester, said Ashley Shawyer, project manager at Shawmut Design and Construction. Shawmut Group, a national construction management firm with Providence offices, is currently helping to complete the construction of the new Performing Arts Center.
Other “soft costs,” including furnishing and the new dishwasher, were originally budgeted at $1.2 million, wrote Vice President of Dining Programs George Barboza in an email to The Herald.
Unexpected difficulties like mold on the HVAC pipes and within the walls of the cooler and an unmarked pipe delayed the project and increased its overall cost, though Shawmut has not calculated the final total, Shawyer said.
“With the age of this building and the renovations that it’s had in the past,” she said, “you open up the walls and things come to light.”
At one point, staff on the project questioned if they would be able to open the dining hall at the start of the semester and began making contingency plans in the event that renovations did not conclude in time.
“Time-wise, I don’t know how we were able to make it happen so that the kitchen could open and serve students on the first day of school,” Shawyer said. “It literally came down to the end.”
“We were not expecting the amount of curveballs thrown at us,” she added, “but we had a great team all across the board from the Brown staff to the Shawmut staff that came together to make it work.”
“Any renovation is down to the wire,” said Adam Palazio, dining services supervisor at the V-Dub.
But with the renovations successfully completed save for a handful of minor items, students can expect several additions to the menu, Palazio and Barboza noted.
The additional storage will allow staff to “increase the variety of food served,” Barboza wrote, noting that the storage will also increase the V-Dub’s capacity for fresh, local produce.
“When we get shiny new toys that give us the ability to do things faster, it makes us happy and motivated,” Palazio said.
Palazio added that the V-Dub will keep staples like the taqueria, but will also add Korean dishes and grab-and-go ice cream novelties in the coming weeks.
And the new allergy-free pantry, he said, will simplify the routines of students who previously had to walk down to the Sharpe Refectory for allergy-safe fare.
In April, Barboza said that the renovations partially stemmed from student feedback asking for new menu options “that align with the health and wellness initiatives on campus,” The Herald previously reported.
Following an Undergraduate Council of Students referendum calling for the creation of “Meatless Mondays,” the V-Dub will pilot the program, Barboza said — and will encourage “students to eat plant-based offerings as well as fish and poultry,” though it will still offer the “occasional meat option.”
Physically, the V-Dub does not look significantly different, aside from the vinyl tiles on the floor and the new seating area close to the entrance to Emery Hall.
Still, an additional seating area with natural light, as opposed to the darker seating area on the north side of the dining hall, is a welcome addition, said Shaw Miller ’23.5.
“I like the color scheme,” added Michael Geisinger ’23.5. “That it’s blue, not just brown.”
“Some feedback we have heard already is that it looks bright and fresh and the addition of the ‘allergy-free pantry’ is great,” Barboza wrote.
Other changes include the relocation of the nutritionist’s office to directly outside the dining hall, and the relocation of the cashier’s station from inside the dining hall’s doors to the hallway.
Octavia Pacheco, a cashier, said the renovations were “beautiful” – but added that she worried about working in a non-air-conditioned hallway in the summer months, and that some kinks still needed to be worked out: She does not have a phone at her station, and recently had to assist when a student got stuck in a bathroom.
And not every problem is fixed, Shawyer said.
“Let’s just say there’s future projects coming out of this project,” she said.