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An Update on the Dining Hall and Community Commons Project: March 2019

Dear Friends,

As you may know, the College initiated the Sharples Dining Hall and Community Commons Project last spring to address the need for more campus spaces that facilitate community building and to meet the dining requirements of our students and other community members. This project aims to bring a revitalized dining hall and central commons space to campus, thereby creating new opportunities for meaningful socializing among students, staff, and faculty, and strengthening the dining experience across all of our campus food service locations. We are grateful to Manager Gil Kemp ‘72 for his leadership gift towards this vital project for the College.

Over the past several months, the project’s programmatic committee, composed of students, faculty, and staff members from across campus, has worked with the project architect and dining consultants to engage our community through a series of open sessions, workshops, interviews, and surveys to gain insight into our hopes for Sharples Dining Hall, the College’s reimagined dining program, and the establishment of a community commons. We are grateful to everyone who has taken the time to participate in this process.

We are pleased to share a summary of what our work has captured so far and look forward to sharing additional information from this work later this semester.


The project architects, DLR Group, visited campus several times in the last few months, holding more than 45 meetings at various campus locations with students, faculty, and staff, including open sessions and workshops focused on sustainability, food service, and campus engineering. As part of this process, the architects conducted 505 individual interviews with students from a cross-section of class years.

In addition, our dining consultants from Envision/RICCA conducted an online survey of our dining program. More than 570 students, faculty, and staff members completed the survey, which asked how they experience food service operations across all campus and off-campus locations.

Sustainability Goals

Planning new construction projects to be “net-zero” — that is, so that the total amount of energy used annually by a building is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created at the site — is an important element of the College’s current Roadmap to Zero: Energy and Utility Master Plan. Reflecting this commitment, sustainable design will be a key component of the Dining Hall and Community Commons project and will help the College achieve its goal of carbon neutrality by 2035. Conversations with student and College leadership involved in sustainability efforts emphasized several important priorities:

  • The life-cycle analysis of the building will align with Swarthmore’s energy and utility master plan, with the aspirational goal of making this the first net-zero building on campus.

  • Building materials, operations, and construction of the dining hall and community commons will support campus-wide zero-waste efforts.

  • Dining Services will continue its efforts to use local ingredients as well as to improve community education and transparency around its area food providers and healthy cuisine options.

Preliminary Findings

Dining Program

Regarding culinary options, there was a strong interest among all groups to increase the variety of fresh food offered by the dining program, with:

  • 38% of students and 27% of all survey respondents noting a need for a greater variety of food options.

  • 52% of survey respondents rating made-to-order and customizable food options as important or very important to them.

  • When asked to choose among a variety of possible improvements to the dining program, expanding healthy food options was the most desired, requested by 28% of survey respondents.

The importance of dining as a social outlet beyond the school or work day, was consistently emphasized, with:

  • 93% of students noting they relax and socialize in the dining hall.

  • 85% of students saying they wish Sharples were open later, and 22% of all survey respondents wanting expanded late-night dining.

  • 62% of survey respondents rated a comfortable dining environment as important or very important and 24% of survey respondents wanted longer weekend hours.

Community Commons

Several themes emerged from the survey, interviews, and workshops. There is a clear desire for a dedicated social and relaxation space, with:

  • 96% of students saying that a student-focused social space is important.

  • 80% of students noting that the campus does not currently have adequate social space.

  • 40% of students believe that the campus currently has enough space dedicated to study.

Students described their ideal social space on campus as a good place to collaborate and connect privately in small groups while still feeling part of a larger, vibrant environment; a flexible space able to host a range of activities, including movie screenings, board games, and live music performances; a warm environment with lots of natural light and comfortable furniture; and an environment built primarily for stress-reduction and fun.

Next Steps

We will share more findings with the community later this semester. As the programmatic committee wraps up its work this semester, we will also share initial recommendations and how they may influence the project, the immediate surrounding area, and food service and operations across campus, including Essie Mae’s, the Science Center Coffee Bar, Kohlberg Coffee Bar, and merchants in the Borough.

Please visit the Dining Hall and Community Commons project site for more information on the project’s mission and timeline. You may also reach out with any questions to Anthony Coschignano, assistant vice president for Auxiliary Services, at

On behalf of the Dining Hall and Community Commons Project Steering Committee,

Greg Brown, vice president for Finance and Administration

Anthony Coschignano, assistant vice president for Auxiliary Services

Andy Feick, associate vice president for Sustainable Facilities Operation and Capital Planning

Rachel Head, assistant dean and director for Student Engagement

Susan Smythe, senior project manager and ADA program coordinator

Jim Terhune, interim dean of students