Hopkins splashes on color, adds marketplace feel to dining area

Levering Court a change in `serious' environment

November 30, 2003|By JoAnne C. Broadwater | JoAnne C. Broadwater,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

At first glance, the Johns Hopkins University's stately Homewood campus looks as buttoned-down, studious and serious as ever.

But tucked away in dignified Levering Hall is a flashy new student food-service area where Hopkins has loosened its collar, kicked off its shoes and cautiously dipped a toe into the waters of trendy campus dining.

The decor of Levering Food Court features hanging lights, wall panels and geometric floor tiles that are brilliant and garish in shades of orange, green, purple, yellow, blue and maroon. Framed prints of artwork from Warhol to Michelangelo hang from the walls.

It's an isolated splash of riotous color on a campus dominated by earthy tones of brick and polished wood. It is loud and incongruous -- and administrators hope that it will become a gathering place, bringing a bit more vibrancy to student life on the venerable campus.

"There are those who say that its vibrancy is not consistent with Hopkins," said Bill Conley, dean of enrollment and academic services for the Johns Hopkins University. "But it is in its inconsistency that I see a benefit."

Hopkins, he said, "is often described as a very serious, very competitive place where students don't have time to smell the flowers, much less eat in a vibrant dining hall."

"Yes, our students are motivated academically. But there is another dimension that can co-exist with that. Having an environment within a classic Georgian brick building that speaks to other dimensions of a young person's sensibilities is kind of a nice change of pace."

The opening of the Levering Food Court this fall marks the completion of the first phase of a plan to upgrade and update campus dining facilities over the next few years to better reflect current college trends, said Carol Mohr, senior director of housing and dining services at Hopkins.

"What's new in dining on campus is the marketplace concept, with small stations where food is cooked immediately so that students have more choices, can serve themselves and get a very fresh product," Mohr said. "And seating areas are smaller for a restaurant feel as opposed to a cafeteria feel."

Food courts, coffee bars and coffee carts -- which can be found throughout the Hopkins campus -- are among the most basic amenities that colleges and universities across the country are providing to help attract students and enhance campus lifestyles.

Hopkins also has a recreation and fitness center with a rock-climbing wall.

It is working with the surrounding Charles Village area to enhance the community through projects that will benefit area residents and students alike.

"A part of education lies in educating the whole person," said Dennis O'Shea, executive director of communications and public affairs for Hopkins. "Education includes development of the artistic and the athletic side, along with the academic side."

The Levering Food Court is designed to draw students inside for a bite to eat and a break from the stresses of academia.

The seating is varied and inviting throughout the three main dining areas. There are high and low styles of tables and chairs, with booths, long counters and small tables. There is a cluster of comfortable chairs and couches where students -- as well as faculty and staff -- can linger between classes over a latte from Jazzman's Cafe, the new coffee bar upstairs.

"It's nice," said Elizabeth Nathaniel, 17, a junior pre-med student from Georgia. "It's colorful ... and sort of artsy. I usually eat lunch there every day. Normally it's really, really crowded, and it can be hard to find a table. But the food's pretty good."

The new food court is quite a change from the old Marketplace at Levering, which had not been redesigned in more than 20 years.

"The old dining hall was dungeon-like, with a low ceiling, poor lighting, boring colors and cafeteria-style seating," Conley said. "We've renovated a dining facility that was crying out for help."

Along with the decor, the menu was changed to offer Italian specialties, Mexican food, grilled-to-order burgers and sandwiches, and made-to-order subs. Featured in the food court are four dining stations: Salsa Rico, Sky Ranch Grill, Pete's Arena and Sub Connection.

"I love it," said Nathan Parker, 18, a freshman biology major from California. "It's the best food you can get on campus. And if you want to relieve stress, you can go down to the food court. People are always relaxed down there."

"It's a nice atmosphere," said Gabriel Ferguson, 18, a freshman biology major from Westminster. "The food is good, and there are couches where you can sit around little tables and talk and eat. I think it shows that the students are loosening up here and we're not all uptight. I study, but I also try to relax."

The Levering Food Court has been popular during weekday lunch, with all four eateries open from 11 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. It is much quieter the rest of the day, with the Sky Ranch Grill open for breakfast early in the morning, and only one eatery serving customers between 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.

Administrators hope that the lunchtime crowds soon will begin to fill the food court at other times of the day.

"We hope that it will also become a gathering place for groups to meet and linger in the afternoons and evenings," said Mohr.

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