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Proposal Could Transform Hilltop Cafe Into A Pub And Living Rooms

by Angela Fortuna

The implementation of a pub on the Central Connecticut campus is currently being discussed among a Food Service Task Force made up of 11 faculty and administrative members. The idea originated when CCSU history professor Matthew Warshauer proposed a plan to renovate Hilltop Cafe to feature a pub and multiple living rooms for the use of students and faculty.

Warshauer has served on the task force that spent all of last semester and part of this semester looking at a wide variety of food policies on campus, eventually coming to the conclusion that the university could benefit from a pub on campus.

“We didn’t just pull out of a hat, ‘Oh, let’s change Hilltop and make it a pub,’” Warshauer said.“The idea of a pub came up within those conversations because we had some very specific things that we were charged with doing.”

The proposal to construct a pub at Central also features the addition of eight to 10 “stylized” living rooms. Warshauer’s goal is for students to have “a place where students can really hang out.”

Hilltop Cafe could be a “great study facility, a place where you can grab a cup of coffee or quick bite to eat, be able to hang out on a couple of really comfortable couches and each of the areas would be themed,” according to Warshauer.

Warshauer thinks Central should first consider what students would like to see on campus before making any advancements.

“We have to think of ourselves as an educational facility, but we are also a service provider. We provide residence and food for our students,” Warshauer said. “If we have students who are moving off our campus because the meal plan doesn’t quite fit their needs, or because they want to have a beer now and then where they live, then that not only hurts the university economically, but it also hurts our cultural environment as well.”

According to Warshauer, Hilltop Cafe is the “ideal place” to have a pub because it is directly adjacent to all of the athletic events and has convenient access to parking.

“Though a beautiful facility, Hilltop has ended up being a huge economic drain on the university,” Warshauer said. “If we don’t start thinking of a way to reuse that facility, lessen our costs for labor in regards to it being a traditional dining facility, if we don’t figure out a better way to utilize that space, the university is going to be in trouble.”

Previous CCSU President Jack Miller “insisted on having Hilltop built when the reality was [CCSU] didn’t really need a secondary food facility,” according to Warshauer. “To me, Hilltop is the best place to do it. It’s already a completed facility. If we had to do construction to build a new place, it would require a tremendous outlay of money.”

Warshauer said that Hilltop Cafe has not been economically beneficial for the university since it was built, further questioning the need for two dining facilities on campus.

“We have the same number of students, generally speaking, then before Hilltop was ever built. [CCSU] have a certain number of students on campus who pay for a meal plan. CCSU then builds an entirely new facility,” Warshauer said. “There’s no increase in revenue to support that facility and the original one. So all of a sudden, you now have, instead of one facility that we have to pay for with a finite amount of money, two facilities we have to pay for with a finite amount of money.”

Miller’s decision to build Hilltop Cafe came after realizing that Memorial Hall had many cosmetic issues, while deciding to build the new dining facility instead of fixing the existing one, according to Warshauer.

“This is an issue that comes from [Miller]. He didn’t want to put money into fixing some of the issues at Memorial. He instead wanted to build a new facility,” Warshauer said. “It would have been a different story if he wanted to build a facility that was big enough to replace Memorial [Hall], but he didn’t.”

The existing problems at Memorial Hall could cost more to repair then to tear down the facility, according to the Student Government Association President Brendan Kruh.

“If the area up the hill was not a dining hall, then they’re gonna have even more problems because they have to find food service solutions for the whole campus,” Kruh said.

According to James Grupp, director of engineering and facilities management, the state of Connecticut does not typically knock buildings down, so Memorial Hall will be renovated, not torn down.

“There are a lot of cosmetic-type [issues] that we [CCSU] want to do and want to improve on, but there’s no structural [damage],” Grupp said. “Memorial Hall was built in the 1970’s so the windows are single-pane and need to be replaced, the mechanical system needs to be upgraded and the servers need to be upgraded.”

“You can’t take Hilltop offline as a main food distributor until you address the [problems] at Memorial Hall,” Warshauer said. “Hilltop itself cannot feed all of the students on this campus.”

If this plan were to be enacted at CCSU, the university would need to hire an alcohol distributor to serve at the pub. The current dining services contractor, Sodexo, holds a liquor license and runs pubs at other universities, according to Warshauer. However, it is not certain that Sodexo would be the liquor distributor, if the plan were to be approved.

“One option would be to approach Sodexo. Another option is to let Sodexo keep the main dining contract, but do a separate contract with a different agency. That is all stuff that comes down the road,” Warshauer said.

Warshauer believes that having a comfortable environment where students can communicate with other students and professors could be very beneficial.

“For some of my graduate courses, we just happen to have a really great group of people, and at the end of the semester, we all decide we’d like to go out, have a drink with each other and talk about what we did [that semester]. Different things happen in different environments,” Warshauer said. “Great things happen in the classroom, other types of great things can happen in other places. As long as we’re all professionals and we’re all responsible, I think it can work and it can be beneficial.”

It is still yet to be determined how meal plans, flex dollars and Blue Chips would be used, if at all, at the pub.

Currently, the CCSU Student Handbook states that “consumption or possession of alcoholic beverages within residence hall rooms is not permissible.” However, Warshauer believes that “with the consideration of having a pub, the entire discussion of the alcohol policy is on the table.”

“I think there’s some questions that the university needs to answer in regards to what they want to do with Memorial Hall and what renovations need to happen there, and then we can make some real decisions about Hilltop,” Warshauer said.

The proposal is still in its beginning stages, and the specifics of the cost and time frame, if the plan were to be approved, are yet to be determined. However, the renovation of Hilltop Cafe would cost less then building a new facility.

“Its got a full kitchen up there [at Hilltop Cafe], so you could do pizza and wings and just make it more of a special events kind of spot which we need on this campus,” Warshauer said.

The Task Force presented their ideas to President Dr. Zulma Toro and are now waiting for her decision.

“[Dr. Toro] is really always interested in what faculty, students and staff really think,” Warshauer said.

“I cannot say it will happen or it will not happen, but we will open the proposal to consideration within the whole campus community,” Dr. Toro said.