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Revamping Wells Dining: A vision for the future

Significant transformations are underway at Wells Dining, which is at the heart of campus life at the University of Maine. Director of Dining Services Tadd Stone and Matthew Legault, assistant director, offered insights into this project’s planning and exciting prospects.

Reimagining Wells Dining has been a collaborative effort. Stone and Legault recount a meticulous process with numerous listening sessions, open forums and consultations that began in December 2022. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members were involved in these interactions. The team gathered feedback to shape the future of dining on campus. 

We compiled all that data and then brought that back and shared it with the university and with various student groups like the student government,” said Stone.

One key aspect Stone highlighted is the university’s approval and support for the project. With a planned opening for the fall semester, the team is diligently working to ensure a seamless transition for students.

However, despite the significant project underway, student’s knowledge of the development has been limited. 

Second-year student Collin Scobie stated, “I can’t say I’ve heard much about Wells and what they’re doing with it.” 

Stone acknowledges this feedback and underscores ongoing efforts to enhance communication and outreach, particularly targeting students most affected by the changes. He explained the reasoning behind this to be that the project is taking longer than anticipated. 

Allegedly, they were waiting for a firm direction of the project before more information was provided to the community. Additionally, Legault says they are now working to push the information out before room selection becomes available for the fall semester. 

“[I] think it’s important that we share with the students what opportunities they’ll have so they can make a better choice on where they’d like to live,” Legault said.

Funding for the project stems from a partnership between Sodexo and UMaine, with capital allocated from meal plan revenues. Importantly, it is noted that student tuition is not directly involved in funding the project. 

The interview then delves into the architectural alterations within the Wells Dining space. Legault outlines the envisioned layout, including a revamped dining area with diverse seating arrangements, a pub offering craft beers and an innovative autonomous market with 24/7 accessibility. Additionally, plans for a beautiful outdoor patio area with fire pits and lounge furniture promise a vibrant and lively social space for students.

The dynamic nature of the project, with the introduction of virtual dining concepts and the incorporation of cutting-edge technology, hopes to meet evolving student preferences.

Legault mentions that there is still a collaboration with the software team. Therefore, the logistics of the technology were not shared directly, but he hinted that there would be scales on the shelves to monitor what you take, and then when you walked out, you’d be charged for all those items. Legault highlights the flexibility in these initiatives, allowing for rapid adaptation to changing trends and preferences.

What that allows us to do is offer 24/7 opportunity for students, faculty and staff to get something to eat even when we’re not open for business,” said Legault. “So having this autonomous market, it’s really the first of its kind in the area and it really puts UMaine on the map.”

A notable addition to campus dining is the new location in the Oakes Room, featuring espresso machines and vending options for students seeking convenient and nutritious snacks.

In closing, Stone and Legault express their excitement for the project’s potential to enhance campus life and foster a sense of community. They emphasize their commitment to student feedback and continual improvement, ensuring that dining experiences align with the evolving needs and desires of the UMaine community.

So, some of the survey and feedback that they’ve got is that students who are looking for a place where they could gather especially in the evenings. And, of course, you can gather in the dining commons, but everyone has to pay to enter the retail setting which allows a mix of upperclassmen and first-year students and makes it more welcoming for those that don’t have an all you care to eat meal plan,” said Legault.

As the Wells Dining transformation takes shape, it promises to not only revolutionize campus dining but also serve as a dynamic hub for student engagement and social interaction. With its blend of innovative design, culinary diversity and student-centric approach, the project embodies a bold vision for the future of campus dining at UMaine.

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