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Dining Hall Renovations Debut in Lowell, Winthrop

By Marla B. Kaplan, Crimson Staff Writer

Winthrop and Lowell residents have applauded the completely renovated dining halls that debuted in their Houses this fall, despite some glitches and new restrictions on interhouse dining.

The old serving areas in both Houses were fully dismantled, redesigned and replaced, giving way to cleaner, brighter and more popular facilities.

According to Winthrop House Master Paul D. Hanson, the ultimate goal of the renovations was "to create a more congenial atmosphere for the students and staff and to improve food quality."

In both new dining halls, all food service is contained in an enclosed serving area, with free-standing stations rather than a single cafeteria-style bar.

Hanson acknowledged that having a brand-new dining hall hasn't meant that everything is perfect.

Flaws in the ventilation by the dishwashing area for both Houses need to be corrected.

The volume of interhouse dining in Winthrop has also soared, particularly during dinner and Sunday brunch thanks to a massive influx of prefect groups and other students. In response, Winthrop has instituted interhouse restrictions during those times. Hanson said the policy will be reevaluated in two weeks.

Lowell House has also encountered many of the same problems. Difficulties with the tray return machine, a "lowerator" that brings dishes from the dining hall to an underground washing area it shares with Winthrop, has caused backups, and Lowell residents have been asked to refrain from bringing guests to meals until problems have been fixed.

Even when all is running smoothly, Lowell will have a more stringent interhouse policy than it has had in the past--residents may bring only one guest to weekday lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

Despite the restrictions, students continue to flock to the gleaming new dining halls.

Alexandra E. McNitt, a Harvard University Dining Services project manager who oversaw the process, said the renovations completely gutted the old serveries and started from scratch.

The renovations were overdue, she said.

"The cooks could hardly move around, and the facilities were old," McNitt said.

Three years ago, all dining hall managers and staff went on retreat to discuss how they envisioned the dining halls in 10 years, including what kind of meals would be served and what the dining halls would look like.

"This is the culmination of the realization of our vision," she said. "The idea was to create a space in which people feel like they're walking into their own kitchen."

Both Lowell and Winthrop underwent many of the same changes. New pocket doors replaced old, smaller doorways to facilitate easier access, and the formerly separated food preparation areas gave way to open, airy spaces to allow for more communication between diners and staff.

McNitt said a major part of the renovations was making food preparation possible on a smaller scale, so that cooks have more control over what they are making. Instead of preparing large batches, cooks now make food for anywhere from six to 10 people, then put the pot, frying pan or French fry basket directly on the hotline so food is always fresh and less mass-produced.

Previously in Winthrop, much of the food service took place in the main dining hall itself, taking up seating space. During renovations, the small private dining room adjacent to the servery was demolished to make room for a complete servery, opening up the rest of the main hall for seating.

Students have mostly been enthusiastic about the new dining areas, Hanson said.

Winthrop resident Juan C. Gabarro '02 said the serving area looks much nicer.

"The food is the same, but it is better organized," he said. "Everyone loves it, even though a lot of non-Winthrop people have been coming and lines are longer."

The redesign of the dining halls follows those of Kirkland, Eliot and Adams Houses, all of which have been redone in the past several years.

Leverett House will undergo dining hall renovations next summer.

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