CORVALLIS - Oregon State University is putting the finishing touches this month on a $13.2 million renovation to West International House and its adjacent dining hall - a project that ushers in a new era of on-campus housing and dining at OSU.
Gone are the "dormitory-style" rooms where 35 students shared a common bathroom. Gone, too, are the one-line cafeteria meals and all-you-can-eat menus.
In their place are larger rooms with private or semi-private bathrooms and food courts featuring tepanyaki grills and pasta bars. The remodeled OSU dining "hall" is, in fact, comprised of six different mini-restaurants under the name Marketplace West, where the booths even contain power outlets and phone jacks so students can access the Internet on their laptop computers while they eat or study.
The changes are necessary, officials say, because many students today have grown up with private rooms and sophisticated taste buds. Universities nationally are trying to respond to students looking for a more sophisticated living and learning environment as their "home away from home."
OSU's efforts to modernize its residence halls and dining facilities have been significant. The sparkling renovation of West International House and the former West Dining Hall caps a two-year makeover of four different OSU housing and dining facilities that cost more than $20 million, according to Tom Scheuermann, director of Oregon State's housing and dining services.
"Our goal is to renovate another building every two or three years, or as soon as we can afford it," Scheuermann said.
That isn't easy. OSU's University Housing and Dining Services, which gets no state dollars, is entirely self-supporting.
"The only dollars we get are from people who buy something we are selling," Scheuermann said, "whether that is a residence hall room and meal plan, a summer conference experience, or a taco."
So what OSU's University Housing and Dining Services program must do is make on-campus living and dining as attractive as possible to new and returning students.
West International House, for example, has been gutted inside.
"Essentially, what we did was move from a double corridor, group bathroom system to a suite arrangement with more privacy and a study lounge on each wing of each floor," Scheuermann said.
Upgraded furniture, new room layouts to emphasize privacy, and specially designed rooms for disabled students are features of the remodeled hall, which has a capacity of about 230 students. West International House also has a small apartment that can be used by a visiting faculty member.
"Our idea was to create a rich, dynamic living and learning environment for OSU students," Scheuermann said, "something more than just a place to sleep."
Scheuermann said many of the changes in the various renovation efforts are based on suggestions from students, faculty and staff. The new Marketplace West will open for business Sept. 23 with the arrival of new students for the OSU Connect orientation program. A grand opening is set for Oct. 8.
The concept for Marketplace West came from visits to Movenpick Marche' in Toronto and FoodLife in Water Tower Place in Chicago. Rich Turnbull, the assistant director of University Housing and Dining, saw a way to create a multiple use dining facility that didn't look, or feel, like a cafeteria.
"One thing that appealed to us was the idea of multiple points of service with different menu formats," Turnbull said. "We wanted the feel of an international marketplace, because West International House has a number of international students living there."
Among the restaurant concepts are:
"This is something only a few other schools in the country are doing to this scale," Scheuermann said. "Students today are very consumer-oriented and savvy. They've told us that the old cafeteria-style just doesn't cut it anymore."
The new Marketplace West will be environmentally friendly as well. About 80 percent of the materials taken out of the old dining hall were recycled; the appliances are highly energy efficient; the dishwater will be recycled and food waste pulped for compost or potential animal feed.
"The bottom line is, we're eliminating about 70 to 80 percent of what used to go to the landfill," Turnbull said.
And that, too, should strike a chord with today's students.
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Tom Scheuermann, 541-737-1003