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New cafeteria facility nearing groundbreaking

The wait for a new cafeteria facility on the Lawson Commons may soon be over, according to Oklahoma Christian University administrators overseeing the project.

Rising steel prices and other building costs delayed the start of construction by approximately one year, Chief Analytics and Planning Officer Bill Goad said, but after raising more money and making cost-saving design changes, the official groundbreaking is now imminent.

“We believe we should be able to start the project probably next month,” Goad said. “There are still some final pieces to put in place to make it happen, but I’m happy for the campus to know we think we’re getting very close to solving some of those issues.”

The most prominent design changes include installing a more cost-efficient heating and cooling system and making the building slightly smaller. According to Goad, changes have not compromised student dining amenities and the stylistic feel of the building has remained unchanged throughout the construction process.

“Every building project goes through a process called value engineering,” Goad said. “It’s important to understand that this is not unusual in a building project. This one has taken a little longer because the playing field of pricing changed in the middle of this.”

Contractors have given the university a 12-month construction timeline from the official groundbreaking, meaning students should tentatively expect the new cafeteria to open by the start of the Spring 2020 semester.

The new, open space with natural lighting and updated design concepts will breathe fresh life into the campus, Goad said.

“On the northwest corner, there will be windows looking out onto the Lawson Commons and the Clock Tower,” Goad said. “Just having windows in the dining space, with light coming in, will change the dining experience. Also, having better food will change the student experience for the better.”

As reported last fall, the new cafeteria will feature six distinct food stations, including a Mongolian Grill and personal pizza station. Students will have an undetermined number of minutes, during which they can go back and forth between the dining and serving area to select any food they choose.

The dining area of the cafeteria will feature booth-style seating with several charging outlets. Students can enter the space to study or socialize without having to use a meal swipe.

According to U-Dining Regional Manager Kurt Hermanson, the long overdue updates should change the student perspective of campus dining and put Oklahoma Christian on par or above the cafeteria facilities of other universities.

“[The current cafeteria] is 23 years old and it hasn’t had much done to it, so it’s quite dated,” Hermanson said. “All the stations will have a new, fresh look, and we’re adding concepts we currently don’t have. I think it’s going to be really cool when it gets done. It’s pretty impressive, and it’s going to be more up to the standards you see at other places.”

As the look of the cafeteria changes, the preparation and serving methods will change as well. To accommodate the new preparation techniques, Hermanson said U-Dining plans to purchase several walk-in refrigerators and hire more student workers to man stations.

“Most everything is going to be made at what we call an action station,” Hermanson said. “It will be cooked-to-order, so it may take a few minutes longer to get your food, but it’s made exactly how you want it.”

One hundred percent of funds to build the new cafeteria have come from private donors, Goad said. According to the Thrive campaign blog, 14 donors have given just short of $1.5 million toward the project.

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