On a recent Friday afternoon, SAGE Dining Services staff—even those who had worked for the Williston Northampton School for years—were on a tour of the Birch Dining Commons. Their guide pointed to new features: food stations with flat surfaces that could be hot or cold, a counter that opened the grill to the dining hall, and new drink stations.
There was fresh tile underfoot, stainless steel trim along the walls, and the smell of paint throughout. Stacked about were power tools and construction equipment as a few last areas continued to take shape.
This summer, the dining hall and StuBop in the Reed Campus Center were the focus of extensive renovations. The goal for both was to modernize the facilities, giving them a fresh, modern look and better ease of use for students, faculty, and the SAGE staff.
“This gives the dining service a considerable amount of flexibility on the different offerings they can provide,” said Williston’s CFO Charles McCullagh of the changes. “They can really be pretty versatile on what they want to bring out and serve.”
He said the updates, which he described as overdue, would allow SAGE staff to offer a wider variety of options and incorporate more sustainable practices, such as water bottles and compostable food wrappers.
“It allows them to be incredibly flexible with the menu,” he said. “I think it’s going to allow them to be very responsive to what kids like. There’s going to be no limitations for them.”
In the StuBop, an accompanying remodel kept the grill but removed the former front counter and tile floor. In its place, the popular eatery will have a grab-and-go station, fountain drinks where students can refill their water bottles, and biodegradable containers. Mr. McCullagh said the changes were prompted by visits to similar eateries at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, arranged by former Williston trustee and UMass Ombudsperson Catherine Porter.
“Go over there right now, you won’t recognize it,” he said. “We’ve been looking at what UMass was doing for last couple of years, which was incredibly creative. We used a lot of what they’ve done over there as a guide and a template for what we want to do here.”
The dining staff has also embraced these changes enthusiastically. In her office, as the dining room construction was still underway, Food Service Director Stephanie Derby noted that the layouts were not radically different, but would help bring the kitchen experience more to the forefront.
“We’re taking a little of the kitchen and bringing it out so people can see what goes into each dish,” she said. “There are new programs and a new concept.”
Ms. Derby said she hopes the updates are noticeable to students and their families for the start of the school year.
“I hope it makes them that much more excited to come in,” she said of the changes. “’Wow.’ That’s what I want them to say.”