WCU celebrates the opening of Courtyard Dining Hall

The WCU Board of Trustees and Chancellor John W. Bardo celebrated the opening of a new Dining hall now regarded as one of the finest in the Southeast on Thursday March 11.

A dedication ceremony was held on Thursday morning, and many members of the university community attended.

The dedication was held in honor of Courtyard Dining Hall and Horatio Helder, a former member of the board of trustees. The facility was built on the site of the former Helder Residence Hall, which housed students from fall 1996 to spring 2007.

More than 100 people—including faculty, staff and students, and representatives of several business food partners—were in attendance to watch university officials dedicate the Courtyard Dining Hall, and to enjoy samples from the dining hall’s featured restaurants.

Chancellor John W. Bardo told the crowd that the fall 2009 opening of the $17.6 million, 53,250 square-foot facility has made his job a little less complicated lately.

“As chancellor, I always used to say that if I have complaints about parking and food, I am winning. If that’s all people have to complain about, then we’re doing something right,” Bardo said. “This year, I’m just hearing complaints about parking, so we must be doing something else right.”

At the dedication ceremony, Bardo and Amber McKendrick, an alumna and a former recipient of the Adah C. and Horatio Helder Scholarship, revealed a plaque, which was hung in the dining hall honoring the Helders.

Bardo also called the opening of the new dining hall the “latest step” in a series of improvements to the center of campus designed to improve the living and learning experience for WCU students. The renovation of the University Center, completed in 2004, was the supposed first step, resulting in a new “living room” where students could gather, he said.

Speakers for the ceremony included, Bardo; David Heidenberg, regional Vice President of Aramark; Chuck Wooten, Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance; Steve Warren, Chair of the Board of Trustees; and Josh Cotton, president of the Student Government Association.

Free food samples were given out during the dedication ceremony from the McAlister’s Deli, Panda Express, Starbucks, the Burger Factory, Zoca, and Freshens.

Among those in attendance for the ceremony was Stedman Mitchell, the university’s first cafeteria manager and who oversaw the opening of both Brown Cafeteria (since closed) in 1960 and Dodson Cafeteria in 1966.

“This is absolutely amazing to see,” said Mitchell, who came to work at WCU in 1944 and who retired in 1976. “Things certainly have changed a lot over the years.”

Although he has not been in Cullowhee as long as Mitchell, Josh Cotton, Student Government Association president, agreed.

“As a freshman, I remember going to Dodson and talking to the employees there,” Cotton said. “We were once the laughing stock of the campus dining services industry; now we are the envy of the industry.”

Four new residence halls have opened since 2004, including Balsam Residence Hall adjacent to the Courtyard. A fifth, Blue Ridge Residence Hall, is expanding beside Balsam, providing new bedrooms for students. The Campus Recreation Center, which opened in fall 2008, serves as a “rec room” for students, and with the Courtyard, they now have a new “dining room,” Bardo said.

(Western Carolinian editor Shelby Harrell contributed to this report.)