URI celebrates opening of Hope Commons Dining Hall

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Features late-night coffee, ice cream shop, 600-seat dining hall, mini-market

KINGSTON, R.I. – August 22, 2007 – University of Rhode Island Dining Services Director Kathleen Gianquitti shouldn’t worry too much when the University’s newest dining hall opens for students in just a few weeks.

After all, Gianquitti heard nothing but high praise during the summer dry run of the new Hope Commons when it served students and families in freshmen orientation, youngsters in camps and University student-athletes.

“I must have heard five times during the summer that eating here was like dining on a cruise ship,” Gianiquitti said. “When parents, kids, faculty and staff entered the building, I heard a lot of wows. That wow factor, that’s what we’re going for.”

Today, state leaders and campus community members became part of the buzz when they cut a ceremonial ribbon officially opening Hope Commons, which features a 600-seat main dining hall, a 110-seat coffee/pizza/ice cream shop with a four-sided gas fireplace, and a mini-market.

With the official opening of the new dining hall and dedication of three new residence halls today, the University marks the completion of almost $100 million in new construction.

“The official opening of Hope Commons marks another momentous step in our efforts to create robust residential communities at the University,” said URI President Robert L. Carothers. “Indeed, students can gather here to eat, to study in groups, to enjoy a late-night snack while watching a big game or to meet with a professor in comfortable surroundings. Many faculty and staff have already found this a dynamic, welcoming place to enjoy their meals and conduct meetings. Such experiences will only lead to greater interactions between our faculty and students, which we know lead to improved student success and achievement.”

It’s easy to be impressed with the 47,000-square-foot Hope Commons, which was built on the site of the old Hope Dining Hall. The $23 million, two- story structure on Butterfield Road in the heart of the residential complex replaces the original 175-seat Hope Dining Hall and the 350-seat Roger Williams Dining Center, which was closed last spring.

Hope Commons has been constructed in anticipation of receiving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification, which is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance “green” buildings. URI officials believe it would be the first Silver certification awarded in the state.

“You have to visit Hope Commons to get a feeling for its role in creating a new dynamic here on campus,” said Thomas R. Dougan, vice president of Student Affairs. “It’s not just about the outstanding food choices; it’s about an atmosphere that makes everyone feel at home. This project is an example of the hard work of our Dining Services, Capital Projects and other departments to design, construct and operate a first-class dining center.”

Returning upperclassmen and the record-breaking 3,200 freshmen coming to campus Labor Day weekend will find an incalculable number of dining choices in a trendy, but comfortable state-of-the-art complex that provides full wireless access to the Internet. Photo montages of campus scenes offer diners fun glimpses into the University’s past.

Mainfare, the central all-you-can-eat dining area of the complex, offers four distinct dining experiences, each with its own architectural elements: Fusion, Astro’s Grill, Home Style and Deli Creations. Mainfare is open seven days a week for lunch and dinner, as well as for brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Fusion, located in the heart of Mainfare, is the signature piece of the operation, with two complete salad bars offering 48 different items, and cook-to-order Asian and pasta stations. Each station features unique vegetable and protein choices, such as beef, chicken, tofu and shrimp that are prepared right in front of the student. On Saturdays and Sundays, the stations will offer cooked-to-order omelets all day.

Astro’s Grill, which evokes the feel of a 1950s-style diner, offers burgers, hot dogs, soy burgers, soy hot dogs, French fries and humongous onion rings.

Home Style offers hearty dishes one might eat with his or her family: meatloaf, roast chicken and turkey, macaroni and cheese, and swordfish among many others.

Deli Creations features an almost unlimited number of sandwich choices, including grilled sandwiches, wraps and subs, as well as home-style soups.

Outside of Mainfare, there are two other major components to Hope Commons: the Rhody Market, which is expected to become a major campus gathering spot with its large gas fireplace and four, 42-inch plasma screen television sets. It has three distinct elements, Common Grounds: which features Starbucks coffee and fresh pastries; Upper Crust, with its pizza, calzones and strombolies baked in a Woodstone Oven and Freshens Smoothies, which offers smoothies, frozen yogurt and ice cream with a multitude of toppings.

The Corner Store is a mini-market on the first floor that has just about anything a college student needs—food, health and beauty aids, laundry supplies, and even fresh, hot popcorn.

“At the Corner Store, we’ll have hot entrees that students, faculty and staff can pick up, and pre-made items in individual servings, so students who live in the new campus apartments can bring them home to heat them up,” Gianquitti said. “We’ll have hot soup and hot dogs on a roller. We have an extensive self-service candy section, just like the movie theaters.”

Gianquitti said Hope Commons is a unique concept. “Incorporating a mini-market, a retail coffee and snack food operation and a main dining center at one integrated facility puts us ahead of our peer universities,” Gianquitti said.

Link here for a fact sheet (.pdf) about the Home Commons dining hall.

Also, link here to read the Providence Journal article, “Dedication of new dorms at URI is a family affair”, about this dedication event. This story also features a photo gallery of the activities.