After over two years, the long-awaited Dining and Community Commons construction is finally coming to an end. On Oct. 16, 2022, students and members of the Swarthmore community can expect to dine in at the new facility.
One student in particular, Felicia Yi ’26, was especially enthusiastic about the prospect of a new dining hall when asked by The Phoenix about the building.
“I’m so excited to be able to eat in [the Dining Center]. The building looks so elegant, and I can’t wait to eat in a place that gets more sunlight. And, hopefully the lines will get shorter as well!” she said.
The Dining and Community Commons construction was supposed to be completed by the beginning of Fall 2022. However, there were delays in construction throughout the year. In an email to The Phoenix, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Program Manager and Senior Project Manager Susan Smythe wrote about the problems the construction crew faced.
“We have encountered many supply chain issues that did not allow us to fully enclose the building-including doors … as well as delays in various interior materials. We have had difficulty with receiving various other mechanical components and individual pieces of equipment as well.We have also, over the course of the project, had difficulty with labor shortages … due to COVID as well as the overall decrease [in] people in [the] construction trade,” she wrote.
The Dining and Community Commons building seeks to address some of the problems students encounter at the present Sharples building. The tight spaces at Sharples are often a hindrance for students trying to grab their daily meals efficiently. When balancing tight academic schedules with overcrowded lines, Eder Ruiz ’25 noted that it’s common to search for alternative meal times and dining locations.
“I try to organize my time so I can avoid lines, so either going earlier or later. I think going to Sharples late at night is a good option,” he said.
One possible solution to this problem is a shift from blackboards to digital menu boards.
“Rather than single lines to get to each area, like the current arrangement [at Sharples], diners [in the new Dining Center] will be able to go to the station of their choice — there will be digital menu boards with the offerings, and hopefully many fewer lines,” said Smythe.
The project intends to turn the Community Commons into a space that students can easily maneuver while simultaneously enjoying their food. Introduced with the Dining Center, a new app will allow students to download and view menu items, ingredients, and allergens. An additional feature on the app enables students to queue songs on the Dining Center’s music system.
Linda McDougal, the director of Dining Services, believes students will be excited once they see the changes at the Dining Center.
“I think Swatties will be blown away when they see the new Dining Center and the possibility it offers. With the food stations spread out and cooking front and center, there will be some exciting things to experience like cooking to order and even a view into the production kitchen. The sunlight, windows, variety of seating and the centerpiece pizza hearth are just a few exciting changes,” she said.
While some students look forward to a bigger dining hall, others are not as overjoyed with plans for the Dining and Community Commons. Gabe Levis ’23, specifically noted that he would rather see changes in current menu items rather than a brand new building.
“As a senior at Swat, I personally think it’s a waste of space; I think it’s cool that they’re building it for sure, and a lot of people are excited about the idea. I wish they had more significant menu changes, but I think their budget may be lacking in that department.”
Other students at Swarthmore also expressed a desire to see changes in the food at the Dining Center. In an interview with The Phoenix, Abhi Das ’26 listed the new foods he wants to see at the new dining hall.
“I hope to see a wider variety of food, including South Asian food, Japanese food, and Mexican food, and more halal options for those who need it. Also, I would like to see more seafood being served, including shrimp,” he said.
Similarly, Jefrey Torres ’26, also expressed a desire to see new permanent food items.
“I’m very excited to see the different types of menu items offered in the new dining hall. I wish they had a self-serve taco bar with more food options in general,” he said.
Smythe in her interview did note a few changes to the food at the Dining Center.
“In the new space, we will be offering nine different serving ‘platforms’ — Salad Bar, Allergy free, International, ‘Classics,’ Bakery, Pizza/Deli and Soup, Vegan/Vegetarian, Mediterranean, and the Grill,” she wrote.
The implementation of these changes, however, might take some time.
McDougal also noted that students should initially expect to see many familiar menu items currently offered at Sharples. As the Swarthmore community is adjusting and moving into this brand new space in the middle of the semester, there have been limited opportunities for the dining staff to work towards developing new recipes and testing them.
“We will begin the experience similarly and then as time moves on, and especially over winter break, we will introduce new recipes to our staff and have the time to train them on the new items so we are ready to roll new items out for the Spring semester,” McDougall said.
The dining committee will also continue to emphasize sourcing local foods while simultaneously exploring new vendor options on their radar. Another change students can expect to see at the Dining Center is a transition to live cooking in full-view glass.
With the college’s ambition of decarbonizing the campus, the production kitchen will become entirely electric, which will include an electric pizza oven from Italy.
Christie Muller, office manager of the Facilities and Real Estate Administration, reflects on the sustainable goals that the building is working towards.
“We are aiming to certify the building as a Living Building Challenge petal certification, and hope for a net zero energy project,” remarks Muller.
In keeping with the plan to become completely sustainable by 2035, the new building also includes a designated basement space to accommodate the campus-wide geoexchange system. This planned system will operate heating and cooling systems for the entire campus, replacing the carbon-intensive, outdated high-pressure steam system previously used.
The project also includes a rooftop-filled, solar panel system that generates about 40% of the building’s electricity needs. The building is also primarily composed of mass timber, reducing the steel and concrete usage, overall conferring tangible carbon sequestration value. With air-handler cabinets made from recycled materials, rain-water powered toilet flushing, and red-list free furnishings, the initiatives aligned with Swarthmore’s “Roadmap to Zero Carbon.”
Many Swatties are excited to see what the new Dining and Community Commons has to offer to them. The college also emphasized the significance of having a central dining hall on campus, aspiring for a refreshing, hospitable atmosphere for students.
“These extraordinary times remind us of the importance of community — of gathering together in shared physical spaces that promote reflection, rejuvenation, and relationship building. That has long been the vision for the Dining and Community Commons,” the Dining and Community Commons page writes.