Amidst all the attention focused on apartment expansion plans and the university's grand vision for a Lee Road complex, the Faculty Student Association has been quietly planning a $5 million renovation of the Ellicott complex food service operations, with construction slated to begin this spring.
The area surrounding the Student Club, which has remained essentially unchanged since the complex's construction in the 1970s, is in desperate need of a facelift according to FSA Director Mitch Green.
"The facilities in Ellicott require updating to better serve the students," Green stated in an e-mail. "In addition, there is a desire to create an area for social activity in Ellicott."
The Ellicott renovation project is guided by a "village square" concept, which will create a central food court area with expanded seating, enlarged food choices, enhanced lighting and more room for socializing and student programming. The Rochester-based Popsula Associates Architects are designing the site.
"The Student Club area is the center of all the action but it needs to have more food, easier access, be brighter and better," said Courtney Weiser, a senior communicative disorders and sciences major.
Currently, food service in Ellicott consists of Hubie's, a late-night, takeout joint that serves pizza, wings and subs; a small convenience store, the Elli; and the Student Club, a cafeteria-style eatery with stations offering food ranging from hot dogs and burgers to bagels and sandwiches throughout the day.
The plan would move Hubie's, presently located in Fargo Hall across from the FSA offices, inward to the area now called the Student Club, expand the Elli store and divide the Club into various quick-service restaurants offering Mexican food, a grill serving burgers, fries and all-day breakfast, a bagel and wraps vendor and a self-service salad-and-soup establishment.
The soup and salad unit will be part of the atrium, an addition to the complex which will seat 160-170 students in a window-paneled, high-ceiling structure overlooking the Ellicott Bowl and Lake LaSalle. Green said the atrium will "open-up" the area by allowing an influx of natural lighting. He also indicated the structure could host a small stage for poetry readings, music groups or other programming.
"I think the reconstruction of the various areas is a great idea. It's going to provide a relaxing environment for students. Plus, having everything in the same area is very convenient," said Tanesia Graham, a freshman intending to major in psychology. "The pictures give off a cozy, relaxing and an accommodating atmosphere. I hope I'll still be here when it is finished."
The Oasis, which boasts pool tables, pingpong and video games, will be replaced by a coffee shop/ice cream parlor open afternoons and evenings. The "Starbucks-style" shop will feature lounge furniture, data ports for laptops and a variety of espresso-based drinks, capitalizing on college students' thirst for caffeine and the relaxed atmosphere peddled at popular establishments such as Spot Coffee and Higher Grounds.
"The late-night operation is real important to students, we know that," Green said.
The segmentation should expedite food service by accepting payment at the point-of-sale, rather than channeling all students through one or two cash registers as in the current design of the Student Club.
Renovation was initially spurred by a 1998 report by a consulting firm that highlighted the need to upgrade campus dining facilities. In addition to modernizing food service offerings, FSA is attempting to foster more of a community in the often-overwhelming Ellicott environment, according to Green.
"This provides an area where students can feel more a part of a community," Green said. "This area can serve as a focal point for programming."
With on-campus apartments pulling upperclassmen out of the residence halls, Ellicott will most likely become a haven for first-year students.
"It's certainly going to help freshmen become more acclimated to the university," Green said of the plan to create a hub of student activity.
The project also includes construction of a "well-defined, clean, friendly entrance" to the complex. FSA hopes to brighten the dismal, dimly-lit Ellicott tunnel by creating a "signature entrance" off the bus-stop and replacing the yellow, "prison-like" lamps with brighter bulbs, according to Green.
The bus stop will be flanked by the relocated Hubie's and the expanded Elli, which will include a quick-service coffee shop and a few seats for those craving warmth while waiting for the Blue Bird.
"The new project the FSA is trying to incorporate into Ellicott is a great idea, but at the same time it seems too good to be true," said Yolayna Scottborgh, a junior biological sciences major. "Are they really taking into consideration how this development will affect students that are presently living in Ellicott? Personally, as a resident of Ellicott I see this as a very big inconvenience."
Construction was initially slated to begin this December, but the date was deferred to the spring, partially out of respect to students, to alleviate activity and noise levels, according to Cliff Wilson, associate vice president for Student Affairs.
The bulk of the construction is scheduled for summer 2002; entire renovation will be finished by mid-October of next year.
"So it will have a little impact this spring; a significant impact this summer, but with no one around; and some impact when school re-opens in the fall, but with the understanding that before the semester is half over we'll have a gala opening and people living there will have full advantage of the facility," said Wilson.
The Elli will temporarily be relocated to a not-yet-determined location and Hubie's will extend its hours to operate all day.
The renovation will be financed through loans taken out by FSA, a not-for-profit corporation that manages dining services on campus. Green said the loans will be paid back over a period of 10-15 years through incremental increases in food prices at a minimal cost to students.
"Given the length of time over which we will be paying off the loan, there should not be huge increases in prices," Green stated.