Even amid a slew of perks designed to ease the loss of their dining halls in the upcoming school year, Branford and Saybrook students still hold mixed feelings about their mealtime options.
Saybrook Head of College Thomas Near and Branford Head of College Enrique De La Cruz announced the closures, which will allow for renovations, in emails to their respective communities on Sunday evening. Although many specific details remain to be finalized, the upgrades aim to create a “chefcentric servery” akin to those in recently remodeled dining hall kitchens — such as Berkeley, Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray, according to Yale Hospitality Communications Manager Melissa Roberts. Still, five students from the two colleges, who were interviewed by the News, said the changes might negatively affect the residential college communities. While Roberts understands the students’ misgivings, she stated the renovations would be well-worth the temporary drawbacks, would benefit the staff members and would allow for more menu variety and innovation.
“While any changes due to a location closing or remodel can be disruptive in the short term, the upside long term will be of great benefit to all — from a much-needed equipment and design upgrade that will result in improved conditions for our team, energy efficiencies for our planet and improved culinary standards and extensive offerings for our students,” wrote Roberts in an email to the News.
The Branford and Saybrook shared kitchen — last renovated 20 years ago — is in desperate need of an overhaul, according to the emails sent by the heads of college. Roberts said that the design of these older kitchens means cooks must prepare food in basement kitchens before bringing dishes upstairs to the servery.
The upcoming renovations will enhance workplace safety and “work efficiencies” — include improved lighting, an upgraded lift and elevator system design and new locker rooms. The serveries will feature “flexible exhibition-style” cooking platforms that allow students to interact with chefs and customize their dishes.
James Benson, director of culinary excellence, noted the “updated flexible space” is “in alignment with our commitment to culinary excellence.”
Yale Hospitality Director of Organizational and Workplace Excellence Agatha Williams added that staffers in each of the dining halls would “have priority” to open positions on campus. Senior Director of Residential Dining Adam Millman anticipates enough openings — especially with the fall reopening of Commons — to ensure all employees will maintain a position with Yale Dining.
During the closure, Yale Dining will also provide continental breakfast to Saybrugians and Branfordians Monday through Friday in a still undecided communal space — possibly a common room. Roberts said that Yale Catering from the Culinary Support Center will support the food service for these breakfasts. The CSC’s bake shop currently prepares the muffins, pastries and granola served in residential college dining halls.
While several students interviewed by the News agree on the need for renovations, many Yalies expressed concerns about the closures’ effects on each residential college’s sense of community.
“There is no question that our facilities are lackluster at best and in dire need of updating. I am skeptical, however, of the measures being taken to support the community in the year that the dining hall will be closed,” Bella Back ’21 said. “We have already been told of some ways that Yale is going to support Branford in the next year, but I would like to see firmer plans to ensure the preservation of our community moving forward.”
Recognizing challenges for Branfordians and Saybrugians, Yale Hospitality said they will provide several benefits, some of which are intended to uphold the community. For example, Yale Dining will provide three “pop-up” social events each month, ranging from cheese tastings and popcorn carts to hot cocoa bars and ice cream sundaes. Each college will also receive one “large program event” each semester, which could be an exclusive “food conversation,” a themed party with food and entertainment or perhaps something else entirely, according to Roberts.
Additionally, Branford and Saybrook students on the 21-meal-per-week plan will receive 300 complementary dining points — equivalent to $300 — for use at retail outlets and the Schwarzman Center, whereas students on the 14-meal-per-week plan will receive 120 extra points.
Yale Dining has several other strategies to maintain each college’s sense of community. Both Branford and Saybrook will hold a family meal every month — either at Yale on York or in the Schwarzman Center, which is set to open this fall. Students in Branford and Saybrook will also receive preferred seating areas in this student center.
Olivia Schlaepfer ’23 said that she is excited for the three pop-up social events each month and looks forward to preferred seating in the Schwarzmann Center. Still, she hopes the special events focus on community and not exclusively on food. She also expressed interest in each residential college council receiving increased funding to plan social events during the dining hall closure.
“What I think I’m most worried about is losing the sense of community. I love my Branford community, and eating in your own college’s dining hall is such a great way to meet up with people from your college that you might not otherwise see — it’s where everyone assembles,” said Schlaepfer. “Overall, though, we definitely need to think long-term. I would rather have this inconvenience now so that future Branfordians can enjoy a great dining and community experience.”
Ben Beckman ’23 — a Saybrugian opposed to the prolonged dining hall closure — wrote an opinion piece published Wednesday in the News in which he expressed his concerns with the renovations, particularly for the incoming class of 2024.
Beckman told the News earlier this week that he sees the year-long closure as “the singular greatest way to destroy our community.”
“By no means am I against a renovation to the dining hall,” Beckman wrote in the piece. “But absolutely no renovation is worth the price of our dining hall’s closure for an entire school year; a whole host of issues for student life and dining, and the destruction of the lifeblood of community within Saybrook College, will follow.”
Beckman suggested a summer renovation or one that “stretched from the spring semester into the following fall.” Still, the Yale Office of Facilities recommended the current construction schedule, advising that a “prolonged construction time” would be necessary to effectively complete the project.
Branford and Saybrook Colleges were established in 1933.
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