Dorm of the future

A first-hand tour of the new on-campus residence, Sutter Hall

For students who spent their first year living in the old on-campus dorms, Sutter Hall residents may seem not only lucky—they might even seem a little spoiled, as well. With its state-of-the-art dining facility, a multitude of student lounges and meeting areas, and dorm rooms that are significantly larger than the traditional two-person room, the brand-new student housing facility is vastly different from its neighbor, Whitney Hall.

The 111,220-square-foot, five-story Sutter Hall project, which includes a separate program/activities building, has been in the works since 2008. The new residence hall will be open to students beginning with the fall 2010 semester. Sutter Hall’s dorms are an addition to existing on-campus dorms, but its dining facility will be the new principal dining hall for all on-campus residents. The old Whitney Hall Dining space will eventually be repurposed into student lounges and offices.

The Sutter dining center takes up the entire first floor and covers an overall area of 29,000 square feet and seats up to 650 people—more than twice the capacity of Whitney Dining.

“One of the main differences between Whitney Dining and Sutter Hall Dining is that the Sutter format is a market-style dining experience,” said an enthusiastic David Stephen, director of University Housing and Food Service.

“It’s like the [BMU] Marketplace, but better,” he said.

The massive new dining hall was designed as more of an all-you-can-eat food court, compared to Whitney Dining’s traditional cafeteria-style setup. By using a prepaid meal card or paying cash at the door (just like at Whitney), students will be able to grab food from five distinctive platforms—international, pizza/pasta, a grill, a salad bar and a “grab-and-go” area where students can purchase quick bites.

One of the biggest additions to the on-campus dining experience is a restaurant area that seats up to 36 people and will stay open after the rest of the dining area has closed. That area, which features a separate entrance, will be staffed until later in the evening so students can buy snacks or even a slice of pizza. Hours of operation for the entire dining hall—including the after-hours restaurant area—will be cemented once University Housing and Food Service can gauge how busy the dining center is throughout the day.

There is also a conference room and a separate dining area that seats about 85 people, where dorm floors can hold meetings and community dinners. The entire dining center—from its mosaic tiles to its retro color scheme—was designed with the intent of fostering community.

“A lot of things happen over meals,” Stephen said. “People talk about their date, their roommate, a project, what’s going on at home. This is common ground.”

The dining center is only the beginning of the improved on-campus experience Sutter Hall offers. Venture upstairs and students will find wider hallways, lounges and study rooms that feature floor-to-ceiling windows and dorm rooms almost 50 square feet larger than others on campus. Bedrooms are equipped with two loft beds, two desks, two chests of drawers and massive wardrobes, and the bathrooms feature granite counter tops. Each bathroom is designed to serve 12 to 14 residents—that’s compared to Whitney’s 32 residents per bathroom.

The Sutter Hall dorms were originally designed to house sophomores and upper-classmen, but as of May 2010 only 100 returning students had signed up for rooms for the fall semester. And with the inconvenient overlap of Sutter Hall’s opening and significantly decreased freshman enrollment due to state budget cuts, University Housing estimates that 650 beds in all student-housing halls will be empty in the fall—a major shift from just a few years ago, when the university couldn’t guarantee every incoming freshman a spot in student housing.

Stephen noted that while the “dazzling” new facility is a huge step up from the older dorms, the change will be apparent only to returning students who spent their first year in the older dorms and then make the move to Sutter Hall.

“The 95-100 returning students will have a dramatically different experience because they’ve lived in a traditional-style living facility,” Stephen said.

He added that freshmen who land a spot in Sutter Hall won’t have anything to compare it to—except when they visit their friends in the older dorms.

David Stephen, director of University Housing and Food Service, stands between old Whitney Hall and the soon-to-be-completed Sutter Hall in May 2010.

Stephen also noted that while Sutter Hall is “traditional” in the sense that it is designed with communal bathrooms and a shared dining hall, “the similarities end there,” he said.

“I think it will be clear that Sutter is not Whitney, Shasta or Lassen [halls],” he said.