By Richard Burnett
By noon, a hungry crowd filled Beacon College’s shiny new Dining Commons, forming a line that spilled out of the front door. The lunchgoers buzzed with excitement as the long-awaited metamorphosis was complete, and the new eatery had opened its doors for business.
“Have you seen it yet?” one student asked his friend as they crossed Main Street and headed toward the dining commons. “You won’t believe it. Everything is changed. Everything is better.”
After a year-long reconstruction — delayed in part by the COVID-19 pandemic — the college and its food services provider Sodexo ushered in a new era of student dining in early August. Gone was The Chopping Block — the aging landmark and former restaurant that served students for more than a decade. In its place, an upscale venue, with accent lighting, high ceilings, and other décor, dressed in Beacon blue and gold.
Funded by tax exempt bonds, the $2 million project has transformed the space from a dark, dingy cave-like atmosphere to a colorful, stylish, practically-designed college cafeteria, college officials said.
“It’s really spectacular,” said Dr. Shelly Chandler, Beacon provost. “The design is awesome; the layout is logical and functional; and there’s all new kitchen equipment, including a pizza oven and larger salad bar. It’s also expanded to include outside dining that is next to a new walking park. It’s got everything that would make the students and the whole college proud.”
A first-class school cafeteria is more than a source of pride for a college; it can be a key recruiting feature to attract top students, according to Best Value Schools, a college ranking service.
“What college dining halls have the best food?” Best Value Schools asked in a July article. “This might not be the most important question high schoolers should be asking when putting together their application lists, but it’s not a trivial concern, either!”
Beacon’s new dining venue leads the list of some major campus facility upgrades in various stages of completion across the Beacon campus. From the now-finished Student Center renovation to the now-underway Career Development Center expansion, the projects are aimed at giving the campus a “new car” feel that impresses students and visitors alike.
“The objective is to unify the campus, make it look like a place with boundaries, and create a greater sense of community,” Chandler said. “We do have a visual theme, our buildings look similar, and they look gorgeous, including the parks and fountains. It’s clear that we don’t cut corners. We want students to have a sense of pride when they walk the campus.”
Other upgrades include:
Rocking the Student Center — one of the most popular spots on campus, the Student Center underwent a renovation over the past year, which is now complete. It is replete with new carpet, furniture, offices, and windows, which for the first time brings natural light into the center. Most importantly, for many students, the center rocks with a whole new stable of video game systems.
Heads Up: Careers Under Construction — Beacon’s Career Development Center is in the process of expanding. The project includes a conference room with interactive video capabilities, new classroom space, and a storage area. Once finished, it will be equipped to provide students with new state-of-the-art resources to assist in their job search development, Chandler said.
Uncommon Beacon Commons — one of the student apartment complexes for Beacon students has undergone a facelift, including new landscaping, exterior doors, enhanced lighting, and new Wi-Fi areas.