Val Renovation Receives Mixed Responses
Issue   |   Wed, 01/28/2015 - 19:23

Interior renovations to Valentine Dining Hall completed over interterm drew mixed responses from students returning to campus.

According to the Amherst Facilities’ website, the upgrade aimed to create a “relaxed café setting” in the college’s dining hall. Notable changes include booths with semi-canopic covering along several walls, low lounge-style sofas around the fireplace in the front room, colorful new chairs and bar-style seating. In many places, long wooden tables have been replaced with smaller tables that seat up to six people comfortably. The new furnishings come in red, orange and green, a contrast from the previous brown tables and maroon chairs.

The functional motivation for the renovation was to replace the deteriorating old furniture, some of which was over 40 years old.

“Our carpentry shop was beginning to have to spend a lot of time fixing the old furniture,” said Tom Davies, the director of design and construction.

Aesthetically, the new designs incorporated a range of inspirations and contributors, including “researching what our peer institutions have recently done in their dining halls, design recommendations from an award-winning architecture firm specializing in dining hall design, student input and input from the administration especially Student Affairs and, of course, Dining Services,” Davies said.

Davies emphasized the importance of student involvement and opinion in the design and construction process. Throughout the design phase in 2014, students had the opportunity to voice their opinions and make suggestions for change during student forums in Fayerweather and Valentine. In September 2014, a “pop-up” showcase in Val featured actual candidate furniture samples for students to try out.

Students “conveyed enthusiasm for more colorful furniture and more cafe type settings, which also influenced the design,” Davies said. “Most of the feedback was quite positive…in particular, students were very excited about having booths in the design. As a result, the number of booths was increased in the final design.”

Beyond initial surprise and adjustment to Val’s new look, student responses have been mixed. Many students praise the newer, more modern, lounge-like look of the new furnishings, as well as the opportunity for more privacy and small-group conversations. According to Dean of Students Alex Vasquez, students have given positive feedback about the visual change as well as the soft seating.

“[The renovations] allow you to have more intimate conversations with friends because you’re more sheltered,” Tasha Kim ’18 said. “I generally think that new Val is good — it definitely looks nicer inside.”

Lousie Atadja ’16 also had positive things to say about the new furniture.

“I definitely like the new colors that are in Val and the new format,” she said. “I like that the new tables in the back room encourage more different kinds of people sitting in the back room. The colors are a lot warmer and more inviting.”

“I think it looks more student-friendly, like a college dining hall. It’s easier to sit by yourself,” Chelsea Pan ’18 added.

However, the upgrade has also faced student criticism. Some students believe that Valentine now seems more crowded. The booths have also become subjects of criticism.

“It’s bizarre with the coverings over the booths — you can’t see who’s around you and it’s difficult to find friends in Val,” Zack Stern ’18 said.

Toward the end of the fall semester, one prominent concern among students was how the change would affect the social dynamics of the dining hall, especially what some consider a divide between athletes and non-athletes. With the previous Valentine set up, the back seating area became associated with athletes, mostly due to the popularity of the long tables among teams that wanted to sit and eat together.

Many students wondered whether the new seating would change this dynamic. However, some students said that the renovation does not seem to have impacted seating patterns in a notable way.

“For the track team, we still find ways to sit with one another,” Atadja said. “Some will sit in a booth, some will sit at the tables, [and] we’ll put tables together. It’s not necessary for all of us to sit together at one table, but I don’t think it’s a huge negative thing. I’m slowly getting used to it, and I’m surprised that I don’t miss the long tables as much as I used to.”

Jesse Chou ’15 agreed that students’ seating habits do not seem to have changed significantly.

“While I don't think there were any substantial changes for the better, I appreciate the administration's good faith effort to address social divides on campus — reforming the most frequented space on campus,” Chou said.

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