Jack Devlin

Branford and Saybrook College dining halls will close for the 2020–21 academic year to undergo extensive renovations, according to separate Sunday emails from the two colleges’ heads.

In messages sent to Branfordians and Saybrugians Sunday evening, Saybrook Head of College Thomas Near and Branford Head of College Enrique De La Cruz informed their respective communities of the upcoming closures. They both noted that it has been 20 years since the last renovations to Branford and Saybrook, which share a kitchen, so the facilities are in need of an update. In his email, Near wrote that the Yale Office of Facilities expected a “prolonged construction time” to complete the substantial project. Both heads of college emphasized that student feedback — collected through online surveys and town halls — played a large role in the decision to renovate.

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“Having now provided your perspective in a variety of different forums, the university is responding to your feedback and will take action to remedy your concerns in the form of a dramatic renovation of our dining facilities in Saybrook College,” Near wrote in his email. “The renovations reflect a substantial investment from Yale and as with so many rewards, these efforts will require some temporary sacrifices as we contend with challenges caused by disruptions to some of our favored daily routines as this project unfolds.”

While both emails said more information is forthcoming, the dining halls will include interactive “island-type” platforms that will feature a variety of cuisines ranging from Mediterranean to ramen and udon bowls. At these platforms, students will be able to speak to the chefs preparing their dishes, “allowing for more personal and customized meals,” according to both emails.

According to Near’s email, the Yale community will be able to access the kitchen and servery designs once they are complete — likely in April or May.

“The goal of the Dining Hall renovations is to bring food service in Branford more in line with recent renovations in other colleges,” De La Cruz wrote in his email to students. “This translates to development of a ‘chefcentric servery,’ with key characteristics including flexible exhibition-style cooking platforms, state of the art technology, improved circulation and modern finishes.”

The basement will also undergo extensive renovations, which will include the hiring of a commercial plastering company and the expansion and redesign of the gym as well as the refurbishment of the buttery, game room, music room and TV room.

During the closure, Yale Dining will offer several perks to Branford and Saybrook residents. For example, each respective college will hold a family meal every month of the 2020–21 academic year at either Yale on York or the Schwarzman Center. Additional benefits include preferred seating areas in the Schwarzman Center, three “pop-up” social events per month and “one large program event” each semester. Students on the 21- and 14-meal-per-week plans will receive additional dining points — 300 and 120, respectively — to be used at retail outlets as well as the Schwarzman Center. Continental breakfast will also be available Monday through Friday within either Branford or Saybrook.

Yale Hospitality Communications Manager Melissa Roberts declined to provide immediate comment on Sunday evening.

Despite the planned perks for Branfordians and Saybrugians, some Branford and Saybrook students are unhappy with the extended closure.

“Closing the Saybrook dining hall for a year is possibly the singular greatest way to destroy our community,” said Ben Beckman ’23. “Saybrugians all know that we have a safe and welcome space in our dining hall to bond over and share meals, conversations and experience. It is the lifeblood of our college.”

Beckman added that while he believes the food at Saybrook is not quite as good as meals offered in the newer colleges — Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray — its quality does not justify closing the space for the upcoming academic year.

Still, other students see the renovations as necessary and beneficial in the long term. Joe Allen ’21 said that while it would be ideal to keep the dining hall open — especially for rising seniors attached to the space — major renovations were long overdue. He believes the decision is obvious, especially as the colleges used years of student feedback. Allen also noted he appreciates the proposal to set a designated Branford and Saybrook section in the Schwarzman Center.

“Don’t get me wrong, the dining hall closure will certainly present a challenge for the Branford community, especially the incoming Class of 2024 who will miss out on a critical space for community development in a critical year,” Allen wrote in an email to the News. “However, I have faith that our strong Branford community will overcome such challenges and emerge from the year of closure more tightly knit than ever.”

Allen sees the inconveniences stemming from the closure — such as walking a few more minutes to eat at a nearby dining hall — as necessary costs to “ensure a far more enjoyable dining experience for countless future Branford students.”

Both Branford and Saybrook first opened in 1933.

Ako Ndefo-Haven | ako.ndefo-haven@yale.edu

Ako Ndefo-Haven currently serves as a copy editor. He previously covered Yale Hospitality and the Schwarzman Center as a staff reporter with the University Desk. Originally from Los Angeles, Ako is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in history.