July 20th, 2015
The old brick walls in one of UND's dining centers have fallen away to modern glass accents, a sprawling open seating area and a large outdoor patio.
The top-to-bottom renovation of Wilkerson Commons, formerly known as Wilkerson Hall, is finally coming together.
"I can't believe it's Wilkerson," UND Student Body President Matt Kopp said as he walked through the first floor with officials who gave a tour to a small group Friday morning.
UND Director of Dining Services Orlynn Rosaasen said the project began to take shape in 2010, but ground wasn't broken until last summer. The renovation is expected to be completed by fall.
Rosaasen said a lot of student feedback was taken into account through surveys and focus groups, which Kopp said he could see throughout the tour.
"I think the project is going to be successful ultimately because they took student perspective into account," he said.
The main floor also has a stage and viewing area along with high-tech study spaces, at the request of students.
The second floor has large areas in the back for preparing food and about a dozen freezers, but one of the biggest changes Kopp and Student Body Vice President Taylor Nelson pointed out was the dining area. Instead of what Rosaasen described as a "mess hall" style dining center, Wilkerson now has a large circular area with several separate cooking counters, including a pasta bar, breakfast area, international station with Brazilian grill capabilities, pizza counter and oven and allergy-free area.
Rosaasen also pointed out an educational cooking counter where chefs will be able to give demonstrations.
"It allows us to not have 40 people working," he said.
The main dining area seats about 420 people, and an adjacent, smaller space seats about 125 but can be reserved and closed for events. This is much less than in past years, when Wilkerson could seat about 700, but Rosaasen said longer hours will compensate for that.
"We don't need the ability to seat that many at one time," he said.
A patio wraps around the front of the building where excavators dug through the soft dirt Friday. Eventually the space will have flowers, landscaping, seating and a fire pit, Schwartz said.
During the renovation, only one stairway has remained untouched from the original 1969 construction, Rosaasan said, noting he thinks every student on campus will want to eat at the commons once it opens in the fall.
After that, he said he thinks daily traffic will fall to 3,500 to 4,000 meals served per day.
"I know I'll come," Nelson said, smiling as she surveyed the construction.