Students wait to be served at the ICC dining hall. (Marlon Pitter/Connector)
No longer traveling to East or South Campus frequently to eat, UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center (ICC) residents say the recent finalization of the dining hall renovation has made their living experience a bit more complete.
The new ICC dining hall premiered for dinner on Sept. 21 to a crowd of students anticipating a complete eating establishment in their building. Prior to its opening, however, all meals were served in the second-floor grand ballroom. Though it was a temporary solution, Georges Appolon said the makeshift dining hall was quite subpar.
“Honestly, it didn’t even feel like a dining hall,” said Appolon, a junior criminal justice major. “Rather it felt like something cheap, something thrown together, not really well done.”
Choices were limited in the first weeks of the semester, students said, and many times they felt compelled to eat at other dining locations on campus, including University Dining Commons on East Campus and Mill City Restaurant on South Campus. With the grand ballroom dining arrangement, eating at the right time was essential, said sophomore exercise physiology major Jesse Bradford.
“You had to know when to come or else you weren’t eating that night or you’re shipping to other campuses,” he said.
After opening the new dining hall, students say their outlook on dining in their building has changed dramatically. Sophomore Bethany Peterson said eating at the ICC is now “ten times better.”
With the renovation of University Dining Commons in 2012 and the upcoming reopening of the McGauvran Student Center in January 2016, University Dining Director of Operations Aaron Bennos said upgrading the ICC’s dining facility brought it “up to the standards of all student dining on campus.”
The four-month, $1 million project began in May after students departed for the summer. The work included a physical remodeling featuring more seating, improved lighting and an overall enhanced atmosphere, which many students said they have enjoyed.
The overhaul of the dining hall was necessary, Bennos said, as it was modeled to serve as a restaurant in conjunction the hotel’s original construction. The refurbishment also brought in new equipment and a layout designed to maximize efficiency within the space allotted.
Improved convenience and greater overall food quality have also been a result of the renovation, but sophomore Alison Marc-Aurele said a vaster array of meal options could also elevate the new dining experience.
“I enjoy eating here more than I did last year, but they didn’t really pay attention much to the food difference, which really sucks,” said Marc-Aurele. “It would be a lot better if they had more variety in the kind of food they serve, maybe like a more worldly variety, where they do different kinds of meals.”
With the completion of the dining hall for a building geographically distant from other portions of campus, ICC Complex Director Nicole Johnson said she noticed that more residents are staying to eat in the ICC, creating the start of a more tight-knit environment in the building.
Marc-Aurele said she also noticed a more community-like feel in the building before the completed renovation. In lieu of the Rowdy Zone, the ICC’s late-night dining option, she said she recalls when students would congregate outside the ballroom many nights for evening meals early in the semester. For her, the social bonding has not stopped since then.
“I’ve been getting to know more neighbors, which is really nice for the living aspect,” said Marc-Aurele. “And I like the new seating and where it’s positioned. It just feels like you’re closer with everyone.”
Johnson said she and the ICC Residence Life staff look to capitalize on the improved residential environment created by the new dining hall to advance life on campus for students in the building.
“We’re definitely happy it got renovated. It looks great,” said Johnson, “and ResLife as well as [University] Dining were committed to just giving a positive dining experience and a great living experience [to] residents.”