New College students have returned from the Easter vacation to the newest ‘hall’ in the University: a tent in the quad.
Although New’s dining hall is the oldest in both Oxford and Cambridge, students will now have to dine in a marquee in the Holywell Quad for 18 months due to renovation works on the kitchen building.
A temporary hall and kitchen were built over the vac to enable this restoration work to start. The College will now begin renovating its kitchen, buttery and beer cellar. The move constitutes a major refurbishment project which is expected to last until September 2014.
In New College News, the College’s annual newsletter, the Warden Curtis Price described the refurbishments as “long-overdue”, adding that the old catering facilities were “barely compliant” with regulations. He warned that the “rapidly deteriorating state of the kitchens” was a reminder that “we neglect the fabric of the College at our peril.”
The temporary buildings will mean that the number of formal halls will be reduced, but self-service times will be extended to compensate and guest nights will run as usual. JCR President Ellie Davidson clarified: “We’re not expecting this to cause any disruption to any student or to any college activity.”
While the hall may look like a tent from the exterior, its inside is in keeping with the appearance of a traditional Oxford college hall, complete with trompe l’oeil decorations. However, JCR Food and Bar rep Lachlan MacKinnon revealed that: “There is some anger at the lack of holographic portrait recreations.” Davidson disagreed, describing the temporary hall as “literally amazing”, encouraging people to “come by and check it out!”
Staff and students using the New College Facebook page also seem pleased with the hall. One commentator remarked: “Wow – that’s a lot more impressive than I expected.” Another joked: “Only in Oxford would we dream of refusing to eat without wood panelling in a temporary building!”
New’s Domestic Bursar Caroline Thomas explained that: “We have tried to make the temporary facilities as attractive as possible in recognition of the fact that students will be using them for 18 months.” When questioned on the necessity of spending money on decorating a temporary structure, she replied that: “these [wood panelling] effects have been achieved by cost effective means. The opportunity cost is negligible.”
The old kitchen is still the original medieval set-up from the 14th century. In their planning application to the City Council, the College explained that it had insufficient power and variable gas pressure, meaning that equipment kept shutting down. Increased demand for food over recent years had rendered serving, storage and refrigeration spaces inadequate.
The application adds that the facilities were “without proper ventilation/extraction,” with regular lift failures forcing staff “to carry heavy containers of hot food up and down stairs”.
The refurbishment will resolve these difficulties, and will include the addition of a new first floor finishing kitchen.
Other colleges have also had temporary halls due to building work in recent years. In summer 2010 Brasenose had a temporary dining hall during major college renovations entitled ‘Project Q’.
Similarly, St Anne’s students had to eat in a marquee for the majority of Trinity 2012 while their dining hall was being refurbished. However, both these relocations were short-term compared to New College’s year and half long plans.
According to MacKinnon, these plans are not long enough for some New students though: “Most people I’ve asked think the replacement hall superior and reflect on its planned closure […] with sadness.”