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Upgraded cafeteria now a Milligan College hot spot

By SAM WATSON
Johnson City Press Education Writer
swatson@johnsoncitypress.com 
Photos by: Ron Campbell

MILLIGAN COLLEGE — Newly renovated with contemporary decor and cafe-style seating, Milligan College’s cafeteria has become a gathering place for more than meals this semester.

“Last year, it was like a high school cafeteria — real empty and plain and uncomfortable,” sophomore Justin Westerman, 19, said as he ate lunch Wednesday. “This year, it’s more like a Panera Bread with the TVs and the booths and the carpet. It’s just more comfortable and homey.

“I’m in here a lot between classes and stuff just hanging out. It has wireless Web and everything else, so you can do a lot of work up here instead of just sitting around in your room.”

That inviting environment was just what Milligan leaders had in mind when they had the dining room in Sutton Hall remodeled over the summer as opposed to the institutional appearance of the old decor.

“It was just a bunch of tables and chairs really. I mean it had no structure,” Milligan senior Adrian Harrison, 22, said. “It was a like a large picnic area or something.

“This is a lot better. It’s a lot more comfortable, quieter. Booths are a better addition. The atmosphere is just better.”  In development for more than a year, the remodeling plan called for a modern paint scheme, pendant lighting, improved acoustics, an overhead sculpture, new serving stations framed by curved walls, flatpanel televisions, a large-screen projection system and several styles of seating.

“Our goal was to be a cafe,” Food Service Director David Taylor said. “Our goal was (for it) to be a place where students will feel comfortable, and this would become a hub of the entire campus for the entire day, not just around meals. It would be a place you’d want to come and hang out.” Once the majority of the college’s students were away for the summer, crews began stripping the nearly 9,000 square feet of space. “The day after graduation — literally — demolition started and the room was completely gutted down to concrete floor and steel girders in the ceiling,” Taylor said, adding that the project took about 100 days to complete. “It was a fast and furious project. The work went right up until the day we opened.

“We were nervous at one point, but it all started coming together.”

So now, rather than sitting in plastic chairs along long, rectangular tables, diners can choose from round tables, booths, high-top bar tables and window benches, affording more opportunity for conversation and intimacy.

Taylor said the food service staff also changed the cafeteria’s offerings, moving away from food cooked for masses to fresh and freshly prepared choices.

“So, we’re not doing the bulk cooking that was done in years past. We’ve gone to batch cookery and cook-to-order,” Taylor said. “We’re trying to adjust to the amount of consumption now, because they like it a lot better.”

The staff also altered operating hours to make the dining hall more accessible to Milligan students and employees. Rather than just opening around meal times, the cafeteria stays open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., often allowing students to find time to socialize and eat around the demands of class schedules and extracurricular activities.

Though the renovation and seating changes took capacity from about 430 seats to 330, continuous service hours made up for the loss.

“It kind of helps with those peak periods,” Taylor said. “We’ve not run into a circum stance yet when we’ve run out of seats.”

In partnership with Pioneer Food Service, the college spent more than $500,000 to remodel the dining hall.

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MILLIGAN UNIVERSITY is a Christian liberal arts university in Northeast Tennessee whose vision is to change lives and shape culture through a commitment to servant leadership. The university offers more than 100 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in a variety of fields, along with graduate and adult degree completion programs.  To learn more about Milligan University, visit www.milligan.edu or call 800-262-8337.

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