While many institutions of higher education have shied away from major building endeavors, Marist recently completed a significant construction project encompassing a new 24,000-square-foot multipurpose academic building, a renovated Student Center, and new dining facilities.
"The new academic building is surely one of the best in the Northeast, and it improves the look of our whole campus," said Marist President Dennis J. Murray. "The renovation of the Student Center has also exceeded our highest hopes. These facilities now offer some of the best academic and student spaces in the nation, and they will enhance our students' college experience for many years to come."
Robert A.M. Stern Architects, whose namesake serves as dean of the Yale School of Architecture, designed the space. The Stern group previously designed Marist's Hancock Center and the gates at the College's three entrances. Faced with the unique challenge of integrating a brand-new building with the decades-old Student Center, the architect achieved a seamless connection between the two structures. In the new academic building, the College's robust music program now has a new home with first-class practice and performance spaces. However, faculty and students from all disciplines are using the facilities.
A Grand Place to Eat and Meet
The new building features a vastly renovated dining hall that pleased the eye as well as the palate and immediately became a premier place to congregate.
"The new dining hall is wonderful because it's more of a restaurant and less like a high school cafeteria," said senior Leslie Sullivan. "It's very spacious," said sophomore Rosalias Read. "The way the stations are placed keeps everything flowing and organized. There is a great variety of food. You can mix and match the food you want.
There is definitely something for everyone, whether you are vegetarian or not. "People want to be here," said Mohamad Charafeddine, general manager of Marist's dining services for the past seven years. The dining hall has a three-story cathedral ceiling, ornamented by three chandeliers weighing 2,200 pounds each, over what formerly was an underused exterior courtyard. And the improvements extend beyond aesthetics. The new dining hall seats 750, an increase of 250 over the old cafeteria.
Servery areas have been moved to the front of the house, where students can watch preparation of their selections. Offerings made to order include sushi, international dishes, pizza, gelato, baked goods, and items roasted in a rotisserie oven. Cooking to order means fresh food and less waste, said Charafeddine. Students and guests also enjoy an extensive salad bar and a well-stocked beverage area.
Patrons have plenty of seating choices, from the spacious central hall to the more private tables on its perimeter, where conversation is easily made thanks to soundproof walls. A dedicated "quiet" dining area offers views of the Hudson River, as does an adjacent terrace.
Diners with special needs have their own food prep area called My Kitchen, a room they can access via their Marist ID cards.Access by key means less contamination, said Charafeddine. My Kitchen offers a convection oven, toasters, a microwave, and other appliances for those with food allergies or gluten sensitivity. Less visible are the sustainability features of the new facility. Composting, which used to involve noisy trucks hauling leftovers off-site, is now accomplished via a hyperaccelerated decomposition system that turns food scraps into wastewater within 24 hours.
A hydration station offering filtered water allows students to fill their own reusable water bottles, reducing usage of disposable water bottles. Marist also sources food locally and regionally as much as possible, Charafeddine said. Whether because of new food options or the striking environment, more meals are being served than ever before. Charafeddine said almost 4,600 meals, on average, are served daily, compared to 3,300 prior to the renovation. Students, faculty, and staff are using their meal plans more frequently, he said.
It's not uncommon for a student to come in five or six times a day, he added; patrons come in not only for a meal but for coffee or dessert. The hall is open Monday through Friday from 7:15 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Diners can peruse a week's worth of menus online and can also keep up via Facebook, Twitter, and a blog.
Alumni, too, are welcome to eat in the dining hall, Charafeddine noted. Visitors may pay by cash or credit card. Charafeddine has noticed increased interaction among faculty, students, and staff in the new dining hall. "It's helping them build a sense of community," he says. "It's not just a place to eat but to get together."
Engaging Spaces for Students and Guests
The Student Center renovation, covering some 98,000 square feet, has created new space for the Student Government and Student Activities offices, "pocket" lounges throughout the building for student collaboration, and conference and meeting facilities overlooking the Hudson River. In addition, a new theatre lounge adjacent to the Nelly Goletti Theatre offers an attractive and convenient area for receptions. The Student Center's new and improved lower level features a large exercise studio, meeting space, expanded lounge space for commuter students, and an outdoor patio.
The final piece of the ambitious construction project has been the recladding of the Student Center rotunda with a stone veneer. This project remedies the deterioration of the former stone facing and reflects the aesthetic of surrounding buildings.
is editor for college advancement at Marist College. She joined Marist in 1993 after 10 years as a writer and editor in Washington, D.C.