Julia Nagel/Sun Assistant Photography Editor

Students prepare to enter the Okenshields dining hall at the main doors.

October 27, 2021

Okenshields Renovations Meet Mixed Reviews From Students

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After closing due to a lack of traffic last fall and merging with the Ivy Room in the spring, Okenshields has finally reopened this semester — with several promised renovations missing. 

The original plans for renovation included expanded seating and improved traffic flow through the dining hall. They also promised more pizza toppings and an expansive Build Your Own Bowl station, which would offer mac and cheese, risotto, chili and mashed potato bowls.

Alia Piccini ’25 and Sammy Shea ’25 said that they had not seen many of the proposed new food options in the dining hall this semester.

Kelly Kong ’24 wished the dining hall had implemented more options at the Build Your Own Bowl station. She had hoped that, after renovations, this station would offer customizable bowls similar to those at The Terrace Restaurant or Trillium. 

“We’re learning what works well at the Build Your Own Bowl station,” Paul Muscente, associate director of Cornell Dining, wrote in an email to The Sun.

Renovations did expand the salad bar, wok station and vegan and vegetarian section, according to Muscente.

Vegetarian students like Salma Hazimeh ’24 expressed that the existing changes did not offer sufficient plant-based options.

“The current situation definitely pales when you describe the renovations,” Hazimeh said, “which is really sad, because the food that the renovation was supposed to add sounds really good.”

However, some students are satisfied with the current food options at Okenshields. Piccinni and Shea mentioned always being able to find food choices that they enjoy. 

As the only meal swipe dining hall on central campus, Okenshields diners often face long lines and a lack of seating, especially during lunchtime. “I do think that [dining halls] are much busier than last year when we were in the heart of COVID,” Faith Taylor ’24, a former Cornell Dining student employee, said. 

The renovations aimed to solve this problem by using the previous Ivy Room as additional seating for Okenshields. According to Muscente, Cornell Dining rearranged the Ivy Room into a layout more conducive to traffic flow through the dining hall. For example, it replaced the Ivy Room cashier station with a door-checker station, allowing this area to serve as a second entrance to Okenshields.

Many students, however, felt that renovations had not sufficiently mitigated the crowding issue. Kong, Arely Herrera ’24, Ester Li ’24 and Amanda Shoemaker, grad, cited long lines and a lack of seating as the greatest barriers to dining at Okenshields. 

Herrera finds herself running into long lines even when she arrives several minutes before Okenshields opens. She usually tries to claim a seat before getting food so that she isn’t left without a place to eat.

Shoemaker suggested solutions to the lack of seating, including adding tables to the remaining vacant spaces in Okenshields.

Herrera thought that hiring more staff at Okenshields would help reduce lines. Muscente and Taylor noted staffing issues in dining halls across campus. 

“Staffing has been a challenge not just on campus but everywhere, and we have fewer of both full-time staff and student employees than we would like,” Muscente wrote. “We’re balancing staff across campus as needed.”

Taylor said that every dining hall she had visited this semester seemed to be understaffed. 

“The dish rooms are stacked with dirty plates because no one is available to be in the dish room,” Taylor said. “I have had to sanitize my own table multiple times because there is no one to walk around and wipe off the tables.”