By Raoul Biron
Hard hats, neon vests, rubble buckets, and semi-trucks stopping traffic don’t usually imply dinner, but until February, much of UNH’s dinner plans will include at least a little bit of spackle or sawdust.
Working through this summer’s heat waves since May, the crews from North Branch Construction, Inc. in Concord and UNH Facilities Project Management (FPM) have kept the $10.5 million renovation of Holloway Commons (HoCo) on schedule and on budget. Projected to finish in February, it isn’t just Durham’s notorious winter that might make the largest of UNH’s three undergoing capital projects more challenging – but hungry students.
“The unique challenge is keeping it open while under construction. We had no doubts we would succeed in that, and we’ve done it,” supervisor Jamie Stewart said as his radio bleeped and his team moved debris.
“Things have definitely slowed down now that the students are back, but they’ve been great.”
According to Brenda Whitmore, the FPM Director, renovating the campus’ largest and most central dining hall on a scale that requires work during the semester has been incredibly challenging, but hasn’t yet resulted in any surprises.
“The bulk of the work is more than halfway through. It’s open and the students are eating,” Stewart said.
“We’re just going to continue every day as normal… You’ll see that by October the front entry is going to be complete.”
Returning undergraduates will have already noticed changes inside the dining hall, as hammers and buzz saws rage on outside. The changes were largely designed to alleviate points of congestion for the university’s growing student body and to ease the transition into the new floor plan.
“It’s already been quite a success. The flow is a lot better now,” Bonnie Witt who works for housekeeping at HoCo said.
Perhaps surprisingly, the student reaction to the ongoing external construction on the building has been less vocal than the initial internal changes. While the dining hall fits more tables and students than ever now, the concessions made for the extra space have left some students with mixed feelings.
“Limiting the seats in front of Dunkin (Donuts) is bull—-. Other than that the renovations haven’t really bothered me,” said Jack Gorham, a sophomore music performance major.
“I was definitely taken by surprise the first time I walked in, but once I went into the dining area it seemed pretty similar to how it was before. I don’t feel strongly about it one way or the other but I just generally dislike all of the expanding that the university doing,” Peter Kane, a junior sustainable agriculture and food systems major said.
As construction continues at a pace that allows students to weave in between electricians on ladders or skate behind a backhoe, UNH prepares to make its first payment for the construction early next year.
According to Jon Plodzik, the director of dining hall operations in an interview with TNH in Sept. 2014, the university will pay back the funds received from a Higher Education Funding Administration over the next 25-30 years.