The Wismer Shuffle

Chase Portaro: & Marie Sykes:

The first week of each semester, Upper Wismer usually experiences increased traffic as students’ schedules have yet to succumb to mid-semester chaos, but the first week of this new spring semester felt especially busy compared to years past. The reason: the closing of the Golden Alcove (the dining area behind the salad bar) and the disappearance of its 150 dining seats has forced more students to eat in the main section of Upper Wismer.

The Golden Alcove will be transformed into faculty and staff dining, with a capacity to host as many as seventy people. In addition to the faculty and staff dining room, Dean Missy Bryant explained that Campus Safety will use a section of the Golden Alcove for locker rooms and extra storage space. Bryant said, “There are more officers than there were before because we have been trying to grow the size of the campus safety staff.” In 2020, the Campus Safety staff included six officers, now there are currently thirteen officers on staff, along with an Emergency Management Coordinator, an Assistant Director, and
an Executive Director of Campus Safety, according to the Campus Safety homepage on Ursinus’s website. Gabby Wright, Executive Director of Campus Safety said, “It [the Golden Alcove renovation] will be a big help to us as we have outgrown the space we currently have.”

Upper Wismer’s old faculty and staff dining room, as well as the President’s Dining Room, both of which have entrances located between the main drink machines and the cereal station, have been transformed into Sodexo staff offices. In place of the old Sodexo staff offices, located to the right of Jazzman’s in Lower Wismer, will be the new home for the Offices of Disability and Access. Bryant said, “Disability and access obviously needs to be accessible for students, so being on a main level [of Lower Wismer] where you don’t need stairs or an elevator to get there was really essential.”

To transform the Golden Alcove, Ursinus will hire a construction team to renovate it, according to Steve Gehringer, Ursinus’s Director of Facilities. He said, “There will be a Zip Wall installed in front of the existing mechanical door and all work will be done behind that Zip Wall.” A “ZipWall” is a temporary barrier that provides protection from dust produced during renovation processes, from things like sanding, molding, and demolition. Gehringer explained that the college plans for the hired construction workers to park in the Wismer lot reserved for staff members, so there are no expected parking disruptions during the renovation process. He also explained that construction is expected to be completed before May 1st, but whether those expectations will meet reality is yet to be seen.

Bryant estimated that the entire process will cost the college around $100,000, which she said, “was actually decided before the budget for this year was established.” So the money for the renovations was already budgeted into the plans for this school year.

Despite the new expanses promised by the Golden Alcove’s renovation, such as the new faculty and staff dining room and the new office space for Disability and Access, some students still raised concerns at the loss of dining seats in Upper Wismer. When asked, Sam Grubb ‘24, considered the expansion “harmful for sports teams who count on sitting together at dinner” after their practice ends. Grubb reasons that the loss of seating will force teams to disperse throughout Wismer where they can, even if it means sitting apart. Kharis Bohn ‘25 responded, “I see the purpose of shrinking the space, but I believe it’s counterintuitive to the idea of students’ accessibility to sit-down meals.”

Beyond the concern for space, one student was concerned about reducing the size of recreational areas without consulting the student body. “I understand the need for more office space, but it feels like the students and our spaces are being treated as an afterthought,” said Morgan Grabowski ‘24. Bryant was asked if any students were consulted during the decision-making process of reallocating the spaces, but she confirmed there was not a student present throughout that process. Bryant clarified, “In the fall, I did come to student government to talk about all of the changes that were coming,” though that address would have come after the decision was already made to reallocate the Golden Alcove to a faculty and staff dining room.

From the college’s perspective, the decision to reallocate the Golden Alcove to make room for new spaces on campus tried to consider faculty and student satisfaction alike, but from the students’ perspective, it’s understandable that some feel an important campus amenity has been eroded.