MIDDLEBURY, Vt.-Last week Middlebury College opened Atwater Dining Hall, a new $7 million facility in the northwest corner of campus. The 21,400 square foot oval-shaped building seats 225, features a hearth oven, and offers expansive views to the east. The design of the new structure also incorporates several environmentally friendly features, including a vegetated roof that will be planted in the spring. The opening of the new dining hall marks the completion of Atwater Commons, one of the five student residential clusters or commons at Middlebury.

Atwater Commons is the second of five commons to be completed, and also includes two new residence halls that total 93,500 square feet. The residence halls, which opened in the fall of 2004, are adjacent to the new dining hall.

Construction on the new residence halls, an $18 million project, and the dining hall began in September 2002. KieranTimberlake Associates of Philadelphia, Penn., designed the buildings and Lee Kennedy Co. of Boston served as the construction manager for the project.

Atwater Dining Hall has high sloped ceilings and its walls, consisting largely of windows, provide diners with natural light and views toward the Town of Middlebury to the east, and the Green Mountains beyond. A hearth oven is the focal point as students enter the dining room. Diners may view the food being prepared as they pass through an open serving and cooking area with four cooking platforms and two islands. Skylights, a student lounge, reception area, seminar room and exterior patio with fireplace complete the main level. Dining services offices, and storage, mechanical and electrical rooms are on the lower level.

Student reactions to the new dining hall have been positive. Middlebury College sophomore Sandy Sokoloski said, “I love the openness and warmth of it.” The student newspaper, The Middlebury Campus, described the architecture as “impressive” and the interior as “aesthetically pleasing.”

Middlebury College Director of Dining Services Matthew Biette said, “The hearth oven, though traditionally seen as a pizza oven, will be used to produce a variety of ‘old world favorites,’ such as stews, roasts, individual casseroles, sandwiches and various kinds of breads.

“Having all of the cooking equipment out in the open allows foods to be prepared as they are needed, in front of the very customers who will enjoy it by people they can converse with. Our open kitchen policy is far more apparent now. If students have a special dietary need, they don’t need to find the person cooking the meal, they can simply ask about it over the counter.”

According to Middlebury College Director of Environmental Affairs Nan Jenks-Jay, the new dining hall meets the environmental standards that the college established for all new construction projects in 2000. “This project incorporated some very creative thinking from a dynamic team of architects, landscape architects and college representatives involved in the design and planning,” she said.

The building’s environmentally friendly features include certified wood, which must meet standards that conform to sustainable forest management practices. In the case of Atwater Commons, the international environmental organization Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) supplied the criteria for harvesting the wood.

The dining hall floor is constructed from certified brown maple covering approximately 6,500 square feet, 100 percent of which was harvested from college forests on its Bread Loaf campus in Ripton. The wood for the floor was also sawed, dried and milled in Vermont. The interior walls of the dining hall are paneled with certified cherry and its lattice ceiling is made from certified poplar as well. The wood frames on the window wall that surrounds the building consist of cypress exteriors and white oak interiors; both species are certified.

Along with the FSC certified wood, a vegetated and well insulated roof, triple paned windows for the dining hall’s window wall, and expansive use of natural light are among the building’s environmental features. The location of the building, which is set into a hillside, reduces the visual impact of the building’s mass, and gives passersby a view of the sloped roof, which will provide enhanced insulation and reduced storm water runoff once it is planted. Daylight from the window wall allows for staggered use of the dining hall’s interior lights.

Philadelphia-based Andropogon Associates provided the new building’s landscape architecture, which will consist of trees and plants native to Vermont and will be planted in the spring.

The new residence halls were designed to provide senior students with high quality housing. The buildings offer three to five single bedroom suites-a total of 154 beds-with living rooms and full kitchens. The buildings also include a study library, a seminar room and laundry facilities in structures designed to echo the college’s oldest building, Painter Hall.

The furniture and building materials for the residence halls also reflect the college’s commitment to using locally produced and environmentally sustainable products, such as stone and certified wood. The residence halls include both natural and mechanical features that promote summertime cooling without the need for air conditioning-the orientation of the buildings, which are north-south to take advantage of east-west winds; suites that extend across the width of the building to allow for cross-ventilation; double-hung windows; transoms above doors; and ceiling fans.

The new buildings are part of the college’s effort to create small communities, or commons, where living, dining and learning all take place in the same area in an environment that encourages a melding of academics and social life. Each commons or residential cluster houses 400-500 students. Middlebury students are assigned membership to one of the five commons upon enrollment at the College.

“We look forward to using the new dining hall for commons meetings as well as a possible venue for musical and theatrical performances and a range of other organized or informal events that make use of the warm and inviting environment that the building now provides,” said Atwater Commons Faculty Co-Head Emmie Donadio. Co-Head Stephen Donadio added, “This new dining space will offer us many more opportunities for conversation-regular conversation, which is the only sure basis for community.”

Mark Gleason, Middlebury College project manager, said, “It’s been more than five years of planning with two and a half years of construction. I’m glad that the Atwater Commons staff and students are now able to experience the benefits.”

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