Students at the University of Colorado are about to experience the first of several phases of construction expected at the University Memorial Center over the next few years.

In late May or early June, the UMC will begin a $2 million remodel of the dining hall and the Alferd Packard Grill to create a more functional and modern space for students. But as the renovation subsides in October, further construction plans will begin to emerge.

Though the front-of-house dining hall renovation is the only approved project currently in the works, UMC Director Carlos Garcia said the hope is several more construction phases will follow.

"We can't officially call it a phase right now since the other parts have not been approved yet, but there are other plans in the works to improve the UMC," Garcia said.

This summer's renovation will include rearranging seating to accommodate smaller parties, adding more outlets to power student's electronics, and a restructuring of the Alferd Packard Grill and Baby Doe's coffee shop as one open space that will cut down on lines and allow for better organization of the food stations.

After remodeling the exterior portions of the dining areas, Garcia said the university would like to begin plans to renovate the back-of-house kitchens by replacing the appliances with more sustainable ones, which could cut down on utility bills and energy consumption.

Sustainability concerns are a significant factor as final plans for the upcoming project are decided and will continue to drive future renovations at the UMC, officials said. Over the past several years, CU has made many green updates -- including dual flush toilets, solar panels on the roof and energy-efficient windows.

On the current project, crews plan to recycle construction materials and replace lights throughout the dining hall with environmentally friendly bulbs.

Erika Hellfritz studies just below a portrait of Alferd Packer near the grill that bears his name at the University Memorial Center on Wednesday. By early
Erika Hellfritz studies just below a portrait of Alferd Packer near the grill that bears his name at the University Memorial Center on Wednesday. By early June, university officials are planning to start renovations of the dining hall and the grill to create a more functional and modern space for students. ( PAUL AIKEN )

The functionality of the new space is intended to make it easier for students to take advantage of green options within the dining hall, said University of Colorado Student Union director of sustainability Dan Omasta, who cooperated with the planning team to increase the project's sustainable efforts.

"Green projects have been happening in the UMC since the '70s with one of first recycling programs in country," Omasta said. "The university has a long history of sustainability and we're making sure this renovation and all renovations campus-wide continue with that trend."

But some students are concerned that the renovation will not solve the problem of defining the space as a social or academic area, a complication that students said turns them away from the UMC.

CU freshman Evan Hanson said the dining area is not cohesive in encouraging students to study or hang out and that the only clear intent of the space is eating.

"The specific purpose is missing," Hanson said. "There is definitely more value in the social aspects of the UMC than as a study place."

Several students in the UMC agreed that the space is "too noisy" and "distracting" to do much in-depth studying, but that it would be nice to have a more comfortable spot to eat lunch and hang with friends.

While Garcia, the UMC director, admits that "appeal" is part of the renovation plans and students are always welcome to use the area for studying or social purposes. But food service remains the No. 1 priority of the remodel and the "main focus will be to create a more functional space for diners."