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History of the Campus Commissary

The building now known as the Central U Campus Commissary wasn't always known as such. In fact, the current building in its place wasn't even built until 1983, replacing the previous commissary building that was originally the campus school of the arts back in the 60s. The current building houses numerous sections, many of which are not specific to just food services, and has become almost a campus center of activity for many students. A grand place for something that started out from meager beginnings.

The land the Campus Commissary currently resides on started out as forest, like most of the area, but when the school was officially founded and expanded from the original core buildings, this land was cleared and became part of the large grassy fields used by the athletic department for the sports teams. There is no actual record as to what the particular spot of field it now sits on was used for, but it was most likely rugby from what our research can tell.

The first building built on this spot was in 1948, but it was a small support building for the campus works department. It was little more than a place for the groundskeepers, builders, and maintenance to keep their things and park their vehicles. It wasn't until 1963 that the first substantial building was constructed to be the college's new School For The Arts. As the 60s went on it was obvious to everyone that the arts were going to be a major part of the future for this school and by the end of the 60s, this building was not going to fulfill their needs.

In 1968, construction on several new structures, including two new theaters, began and plans for renovating the old building started. In late 1969, the new Campus Commissary opened for business. It was mostly just a giant kitchen and glorified cafeteria at the time; simply a place for school supplied meals and little else. There wasn't much available room in the building to expand, but they managed to eek out several dining halls before the building was finally torn down in the 80s. Through this time the campus, as a whole, saw the largest amount of expansion and growth, as well as an increase in the student population. It was obvious that this structure wasn't going work for much longer.

The current building was constructed over the course of several months in late 1983, finally opening its doors in mid-November. The early layout was fairly simple and left several areas unused for more than storage, left in place for future expansion. This was a good thing because the campus grew faster and bigger than anyone expected in the decade to come. As such, the internal style, design, and even layout of the commissary changed several times over the course of the years.

At first it looked little better than your standard high school lunch room, with simple plastic and metal framed chairs and cheap pressboard tables semi-randomly laid out on a rough grid pattern. (We apologize for the picture, it's the only one we could find showing the original layout. It was in the archives under the scandals section of the campus history.) This was done so they could at least open it to the public on time and in budget, but wasn't the final plan.

The first main dining hall rebuild was to give it an old grand stature. This was done by adding much better furniture, including several couches and low tables for sitting areas around the fringes, and a strange set of large Romanesque pillars and crests. The furniture was a welcome sight, but the Roman architecture got a poor reaction from the student body. Many saw it as overly elaborate and expensive when the school needed many more important changes and upgrades. One issue of the Sentinel at the time said, "This is nothing more than simple bread and circuses, trying to distract us from the real corruption this new Roman turn they've taken has brought us."

Luckily, there were several other rooms being reworked in the coming years that allowed many different looks to come to the building. After the disaster with the Roman Hall, as it became known, all future rooms were put before the Student Council for plan approval before they were started. This way the school could always blame the students if any of them seemed out of place again.

After several additional simple cafeteria style rooms being added off the main Roman Hall being added to give more dining area, it was time to add another completely different section. In 1985 the Commissary Coffee Shop, serving simple foods and various styles of coffee, opened to rave reviews by the students and staff. It soon became the most popular part of the Commissary, but couldn't contain the number of students it always seemed to attract at once.

This quickly led to a second similar shop opening on the opposite side of the general cafeteria areas, hoping to draw the crowds wider. It too was a rave success and both are still open today, although they have totally different looks and themes today. The success of these only fringe cafeteria-related businesses, the school board started plans to expand the scope of what the Commissary would supply.

Before truly expanding the scope, they opened a small doughnut shop called The Hole, where students could get all kinds of simple pastries and, of course, coffee. Unlike the other two coffee shops, this one was on the main floor, near the Terrence Square entrance, which proved to be what made it an instant success. Students walking through the square would be drawn in by the smell, even when they had no plans of eating anything at the time.

This was at the end of the 80s, so money was all everyone was thinking about. That lead to the final push to go completely out of the food service restriction on the Commissary. The first of these small shops to open was a mini-mart, selling simple boxed foods and snacks, along with some other non-food-related items. It was very similar to your average service station mini-mart, only without the gas pumps outside, but it lasted in that form for nearly six years. More importantly it opened the door to other non-food-service business to open within the umbrella of the Commissary.

It was followed by some failed mini-shops, including a candle store for some reason. The clothing store was a mild success, but quickly got moved into the actual Campus Store, which had the room to truly do it right (especially as the number of books required started to shrink in the late 90s). One shop, which was opened to sell only cards and wrapping paper supplies, closed only two weeks after it opened. The number of failed experimental shops that happened during this time, between 88 and 93 is rather staggering.

Another now common sight that started to appear at this time was the vending machines and the mini-lounges. At first they were just in the fringe halls of the Commissary, in places where they had less than 40 square feet of room to build anything. They were so popular as an easy and quick place to stop and rest, they started to add them to the other building around campus, although they were all still managed by the commissary. There are now over 35 of these around the campus as a whole and all of them are still managed and stocked by the staff of the Commissary.

As the 1990s started a change in the feel around campus and society as a whole washed through and the Commissary changed with them. The Roman Room was remodeled and the old style of server cafeteria was no more. In its place was a much more conservative looking dining area, with padded wooden chairs and actual booths around the edges. Several walls were removed to expand it out into two of the conjoining dining areas as well, making this the large cafeteria you still see today. Instead of walls separating areas, they added planter boxes filled with lovely green foliage.

The other major change they made during this transition was to get rid of the servers dealing with the students directly. In their place were several large self-serve food bars, what we commonly call buffet-style. Instead of having a staff of servers, the cooks and kitchen staff would simply come out and refresh the items that were old or empty. This also allowed them to serve more students at once by having them spread out along the back wall with only one entrance that a worker would punch cards or accept payment.

The student loved the new layout, since it meant they would be able to eat as much as they could fit on their plates, instead of however much the servers would give them. The staff loved it because they didn't have to deal with the students nearly as much. And the school board loved it because they could save a ton on what they paid in staff expenses since they didn't need to have a whole staff of servers.

The only problem was the ease students would have in sharing meals once they got out of the buffet line, paying only for one plate but serving sometimes up to six people on one punch. Inspectors have now been expected to help police this as they wander through the Commissary on their rounds, but little has actually changed.

A lot has changed over the years and many major events have taken place with the walls of the Central U Campus Commissary, as well as about it, but one thing has always remained the same. Even in the early days of its existence, the Commissary has been one of the central hubs for students on campus. It not only nourished them with foods and drinks, often supplied through programs like the Food Cards or Student Aid, it also nourished their culture and social growth.

If you feel you are too good for the Central U Campus Commissary and only eat at one of the actual restaurants found around (both on and off campus), you are actually missing out on one of the best things the campus has to offer. Take a moment to come in and check it out, at least once during your stay here. You will forever be missing out if you don't.

Last modified on 2013/9/8 by Admin
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