Construction means some new UI students get a pre-meal walk

Construction means some new UI students get a pre-meal walk

URBANA — Dinnertime will mean a two-block walk for students at the Illinois Street Residence Halls this year, but new roomies Xavier Uribe and Rafael Martinez don't seem to mind.

"It'll help us to get to know the campus," Uribe said Thursday as the two Chicago freshmen carted a Cubs lamp and other belongings into their room at Wardall Hall.

Construction on a new dining hall for ISR continued through the UI's official move-in day, when several thousand new students arrived on campus.

As of 4 p.m., more than 7,100 had been moved into the residence halls, 3,200 more than the day before. Early arrivals started moving in Sunday.

The $77.5 million renovation at ISR will expand the dining area by nearly 36,000 square feet to serve 1,385 people and provide larger meeting rooms, group study areas, and recreation and library spaces. Construction is expected to last two years.

In the meantime, students at ISR will have the choice of eating at temporary dining facilities at the Illini Union on Green Street, a five-minute walk.

The second-floor ballroom, rechristened temporarily as "Blue 41," serves as the traditional dining hall, with an all-you-can-eat buffet and salad bar. Downstairs, the Colonial Room and Room 104 — the former vending room — will be known as "Orange on Green," offering cooked-to-order options for carry-out or dining in, said Christopher Henning, senior assistant director of dining services for University Housing. One side will feature rice bowls and noodle bowls, and the other sandwiches, soups and salads.

Henning said the names honor the UI's colors and campus history: the Illini Union was built in 1941, and what is now Ikenberry Commons used to feature a popular snack bar called "Illini Orange."

"We wanted to retain a bit of that nostalgia."

The ballroom seats 280 people, compared to 700 at the old ISR dining hall, one of the largest on campus, Henning said.

But ISR isn't full this year — 441 of the 1,175 rooms closest to the construction were left empty during construction to mitigate noise for student residents, officials said.

Still, planners had to ensure the temporary dining facilities would provide enough space, which is why they decided to offer a second option with Orange on Green, Henning said. It will have tables and chairs, and the Illini Union has lots of other seating areas, including the patio outside, he said.

"We had to logistically think about how we were going to flow that many people through," he said.

Orange on Green will also have extended hours, staying open until 3 p.m. for lunch, to handle the volume, he said.

"If we notice that we do have some issues, we can always extend our hours" even more, he said.

'Chomps' among options

UI students can also use their meal passes to eat at other dining halls around campus. Nearby options include Busey-Evans (a six-minute walk) and Lincoln Avenue (nine minutes), officials said.

And for students who don't feeling like walking, or want to grab something on the way to class, ISR has a new convenience shop, "Chomps," where they can pick up snacks and a variety of hot foods. A Dining Services food truck will also be parked outside starting Monday.

When completed, the new ISR dining hall will feature open spaces, large windows and nine "micro-restaurants." Other new areas include a tea bar, multipurpose rooms and a fitness center. Phase two includes renovation of student rooms and common areas with new paint, flooring and furniture, electrical upgrades, new windows and individual-use bathrooms.

Sophomore Shawn Doss, working as an I-Guide on Thursday, lived at ISR last year and opted to switch to the 2-year-old Bousfield Hall in Ikenberry Commons this year — mostly because the rooms are newer and have private bathrooms, but also because of the dining hall reconstruction.

"I'm not a big fan of community bathrooms," he said.

Doss said some students may not like to walk to the Illini Union to eat, especially when it's raining or snowing. But he also has to walk about a block from his residence hall to the Ikenberry Commons dining hall, so "it's not really a big difference."

'Snacks for emergencies'

Uribe said he and Martinez chose ISR because it was one of the last options available and is close to the main Quad.

"It's so close to a lot of my classes," said Uribe, a biology major.

Madeline Dodge, a sophomore transfer student from Gurnee, said she also liked the building's location and doesn't mind the temporary arrangements.

"I have a fridge. I can keep snacks for emergencies. And everything's a bus ride away, so I don't really have to be out in the elements too much," she said.

Some renovations were required at the Illini Union, including new dishwashing equipment on the first and second floors so dishes don't have to be carted down to the basement. That equipment will be re-used in the new dining hall once it's completed, Henning said.

Blue 41 will continue to offer favorites from the Colonial Room menu, which was popular with faculty, including fried chicken and London broil. The dining hall, which started serving food Monday, is open to students, faculty, staff and the general public.