OPINION: The disparity between Fairfax campus growth and dining hall capacity

In the fall of 2009, George Mason University was classified as a commuter campus. Now, four years later in the fall of 2012, much at Mason has changed. The university has seen a monumental change in its identity. New administrative buildings and residential halls have grown up from empty spaces. Former parking lots and buildings have been gutted and reinvented completely. Although it has been a somewhat cumbersome process, the campus has entered a new phase in its life--that of a residential campus beginning to forge its own unique identity. And this campus growth isn’t even coming close to an end. The master plan of the university includes increased space for parking, additional classroom space, more administrative offices and of course more dorm space. But one thing that seems particularly lacking from Mason’s plan is allocated space for larger dining halls.

Currently Mason offers a wide selection of outside vendors in regard to dining options, from Starbucks to the expansions of Taco Bell and Chick-fil-A as well as recent additions such as Subway and Panda Express. However, due to the fact that these are outside vendors, many only take Mason Money and Bonus dollars, meaning that meal plans cannot be used. At the moment, the best place to use Meal Plans is arguably Southside, which is currently the only dining hall-style facility on this campus. However, the facility, which opened in 2009, has become overcrowded and incredibly cramped. During peak meal times it is not uncommon to have to enter and spend upwards of twenty or thirty minutes looking for a seat. This can be a horrible inconvenience around breakfast or lunch, when many students need to be able to get in, eat and get to their classes.

Admittedly, Mason will be completing an addition to Ike’s at the end of this academic year, expanding it into an anytime dining facility that will seat around 350 people. While it is good to see the addition of a new facility, the size will still likely not be enough to completely alleviate the congestion of current dining locations. This lack of dining space will likely remain the case, especially after the construction of more residence halls within the next several years.

While the growth at Mason is fantastic, the capacity of Mason must grow with it. An increased student population and more residence halls are great, especially if they can help create a campus culture that might previously have been lacking. However, the master plan must reflect the needs of a quickly growing residential campus. In addition to classroom and dorm space, we must also remember to include new dining facilities, especially ones that are capable of holding large quantities of students in order to best accommodate student needs. Such an important component to what is now a residential campus should not be overlooked, especially as Mason looks to continue its growth as a university.

Opinions expressed in this column are solely the beliefs of the writer. 

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