Before its first major renovation project since 1992, the Indiana Memorial Union dining area featured food court fare and outdated decor. Roughly 14,000 students use the school’s largest social hub every day during a normal semester, and the IMU’s directors said the space was no longer adequate.
The project began in December, and IMU Executive Director Hank Walter and Assistant Director Gary Chrzastowski still expect the building’s $10.2 million renovation to be completed in time for the spring 2021 semester. They said the project wasn’t slowed by COVID-19 pandemic.
The number of workers on-site was never cut and they had enough room to social distance. Construction workers on-site all wear masks, and Walter said none have tested positive for the coronavirus.
Walter said while the renovation was funded through IU Dining, the IMU has cut its budget as a result of decreased revenue since students were sent home in March. That also resulted in the IMU furloughing or laying off multiple full-time employees. Some were placed in other jobs at IU.
Elements of the renovation, such as stages Walter and Chrzastowski plan to have in the dining areas for live performances, will have to wait until after the main project is completed.
Plans for opening up the new dining spaces in the spring won’t go as anticipated. Just like every other dining hall on campus, the IMU will have Grubhub pickups and limited touchpoints.
“Pandemics and buffets don’t go together,” Walter said.
Inside the renovation, there are no ceilings or flooring are not in place yet. The outline for the new space emerges with drywall installation.
“I think the spaces felt more like a mall food court,” Walter said. “That's not what students want right now. They want places in food with some character, some authenticity with some sense that the food is being made fresh. They're interested in different kinds of cuisines.”
There will be eight food options, including the combined Sugar & Spice/Chocolate Moose location, which has already opened. There will also be an Asian-style restaurant, burger restaurant, Italian restaurant and other grab-and-go stations.
Walter said the original dining space felt like it could be at any school. He wants the new space to be representative of IU and the IMU. It will feature old elements of the building such as an IMU sign from the 1950s, stained glass and circular ceiling light fixtures.
Additionally, restaurant names will have IU ties such as the Quarry Pie Company and a burger restaurant will be named Whitfield Grill, after Helen Whitfield, who served as the IMU’s food manager from 1943-1948.
Food will be prepared fresh and sourced locally, which Walter said is another part of what students wanted. Seating will also be expanded.
Over the summer, the crew continued installing the framework for what will become the new dining space. Chrzastowski said. That work should be near completion in the next month.
The next steps for the renovation will see electrical work continuing as well as the completion of walls, ceilings and plumbing. Chrzastowski expects ceilings to be installed over the next 2 to 4 weeks. Then comes interior design.
For now, the site bears no resemblance to a dining space — completion of the project is still months away. Though Chrzastowski believes the work conducted through the pandemic will create a space that will once again be a hub for students.
“This becomes a destination,” Chrzastowski said. “I want to go all the way there because I want to be there.”