The Caf. Nicholson Commons. The Dining Hall. Whichever name you prefer, it has most likely been the topic of conversation at some point during your time at Point Loma. The complete renovation to Nicholson Commons this past summer only amplified the usual buzz regarding the cafeteria.
On May 8, the Monday after graduation, they broke ground and the work continued until August 14 when students started to arrive on campus. While the brunt of the work only took three months, the discussion of major changes to the dining hall have been in the works for about a year, said Miles Rottman, who is the General Manager for Sodexo.
“It’s been twenty years since Nicholson Commons was built, and we had a pretty outdated building,” said Milton Karahadian, the Director of Nicholson Commons. “Even though everything was still super functional, it needed some upgrading. We’ve also had a huge influx of students since 1997, so the dining hall was getting too small.”
According to the Director of Campus Facilities and Sustainability, Bruce Kunkel, the renovation project cost approximately $3.8 million. Beyond the visible renovations, this price covered everything from demolition, reconstruction and new kitchen appliances such as a Mongolian grill and a gas-fire pizza oven.
“Part of our thought process with the remodel was, how much can we put out in front of students so that they are seeing the food being prepared and made-to-order,” Rottman said. “That way you feel it is something being made fresh for you.”
The dining hall will eventually feature fresh ground coffee supplied by Cura Coffee and a rotisserie to prepare sliced lunchmeat. Rottman said that the remodel was geared towards adding almost 100 additional seats, improving the flow of traffic in serving areas and providing transparency in the preparing of meals.
“I feel like there’s more room to move around when it’s busy and you can come during lunch with friends and there [will] be a table,” sophomore Clayton Bendigkeit said. “I don’t know; the food is kind of the same but I like the lighting.”
Student opinions are across the board when it comes to the new cafeteria. While one student likes the open concept serving areas, another student finds the area to be confusing to navigate. Yet, no matter where they stand on the new floor plan, students continue to ask for improvements in the food quality.
“I feel like it’s always the same kind of meal,” junior Maddie Lamonaco said. “I mean maybe it’s cuz I’m a junior so I’ve been here for two years, but it’s like the same dishes they always have.”
The appeals for dish variety, organic options and healthy to-go meals echoed throughout the dining hall. One overwhelming request is students’ call for fresh fruit, apart from the everyday apples, oranges and bananas. Nevertheless, Rottman and Kunkel said they welcome the feedback because they can only improve the food if students ask.
Even during the busiest lunch rush, Byron Zuniga, the Residential Dining Supervisor, stands out as a smiling face in the crowd. He began working for PLNU over 20 years ago while Nicholson Commons was being built. Through all these new adjustments and challenges in the remodel, he said he is excited that his co-workers can showcase their skills in the new layout.
“One of the things in the renovation that got my attention is the fact that now you have people that can come in with their school bags and know that they can do their homework here,” Zuniga said. “They can spend that time, not just for eating purposes but quality time to study. Those are great positives for me. It seems like a small thing but it’s a big thing.”
There is more to the renovation than meets the eye. Behind it are people like Byron whose joy stems from seeing students do their work in the cafeteria and vice versa. While there may never be one meal that satisfies everyone’s taste, the dining hall will continue to grow and change with the students.
“We’ve always maintained that this [Nicholson Commons] is the living room of the campus. This is the heart of it,” Karahadian said. “So to have a nice place by which students can come, eat and have a great experience is just part of having a good college experience. That’s really the purpose of creating a really nice space where the community can continue to grow.”