New project cooking up in residential halls

Coming this Thanksgiving, students in residential halls North, West and East will be able to cook their own Thanksgiving dinner. Currently, all three residential halls have functional kitchens that are not yet accessible to students, but this is about to change according to Associate Director of Housing and Operations Manager, Jody Inman.

“I’m hoping that by the end of September we should be wrapped up and ready to go. If it is longer than that, I would be surprised,” Inman said.

Inman says that the kitchen project in the residential halls has faced several minor setbacks, but is ready to open to students this year.

“They are operational about 95 percent complete,” Inman said. “We still have a few things that need to be done, some tile which had to be replaced. The fans had to be replaced. They were not the right kind.”

The reason the fans needed to be replaced is because the kitchens have to meet standards set by the American Disabilities Act. The Housing Department follows ADA regulations by making the residential halls handicap accessible. Director of University Housing, Dining and Conference Services, David Weaver, has been monitoring this project for ADA compliance.

Although currently inaccessible to students, the kitchens in North, East and West Halls are due to be fully operational and up to code before the Thanksgiving holiday. Photo credit: Cheyenne Mathews

“Above the stove there is what’s called a hood, and it’s required by code… Most residential hoods have a button, so a person who can stand up, could push it on and off like a light switch and a fan. Well, we specifically wrote into the bid documents that we wanted a hood that could be controlled by a light switch so that a person who is in a wheelchair could flip on a light, flip on the fan,” Weaver said.

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The kitchen concept began in 2014, but has faced several minor setbacks that have delayed its completion. Weaver first needed to go to the Alaska Housing Finance Corporation to see if they would lend the University more money to complete these projects. He then went to the Board of Regents to sign off on the project, and finally he met with a designer who knew all the ADA regulations. Despite all of these steps, the biggest setback was the incorrect installment of a hood that was not handicap accessible.

“The hood the contractor installed was not capable of being turned on or off [by someone with disabilities] so they had to switch it out. That has been done,” Weaver said.

Now, all Weaver is waiting for is some tile to finish the project. Once the tile is shipped in, the installment should take about a week. Students in the residential halls should expect to see fully functional and accessible kitchens around the end of September, according to Inman.

Weaver said that University Housing got the idea for resident hall kitchens from students through the quality of life survey. Weaver said he had his reservations at first because the buildings were not designed to be compatible with kitchen equipment, but he is happy with the end result.

“At the end of the day, we are going to have a good product for a good price. I wish it had gone a little smoother, yes, but at the end of the day we are going to get pretty much what we want,” Weaver said.

One UAA student excited for the new kitchens is Andrew Skellen, a computer science major. He sees the possibility of kitchens this fall as something to look forward to.

“[These kitchens are] definitely preferable more than the commons I would say, even though the commons is an all you can eat, the kitchen gives you whatever you want to eat,” Skellen said. “So if you want to make chicken one day you can have chicken… and you don’t have to wait for the commons to be serving that type of food.”

Skellen was a culinary major before switching to computer science this year. He is also from out of state and access to a kitchen will make his holiday breaks much more worthwhile.

“I think if the kitchens are open by the time we get to Thanksgiving, it’s going to give people a chance who are staying on campus to definitely hang out and have a family setting that they are not going to have otherwise,” Skellen said.

Weaver and University Housing spent around $300,000 for the family-like environment. That sum includes the remodeled lobbies, kitchens, furniture, TVs and flooring.