Kitchen for Keeps
Three years of planning have finally come to fruition. The kitchen in Keep, which used to sport chipping wooden cabinets and aged linoleum, has benefited from a complete renovation, and now boasts — among other wonders — stainless steel shelving and a wheelchair accessible food preparation table.
“The new kitchen is incredibly beautiful,” says Director of Dining Michele Gross. “It’s gotten a full face lift and is now up to code.”
According to Gross, the main issues with the kitchen were traffic flow and safety. Because of Keep’s orientation, most use the kitchen door as the main entrance, causing tons of students to tramp through the kitchen on the way to their rooms, getting in the way of those using the kitchen for its intended purpose. Keep residents have characterized the new kitchen as “pretty freakin’ sweet,” “frenzied, but wonderful” and “a place where people are always willing to help.”
Not only have kitchen traffic jams been eradicated, but thanks to a request from the Oberlin Student Services/Cooperative Association, the kitchen is now more accessible to handicapped students. Although this was not the original intention of the project, Oberlin worked hard this past summer to incorporate the renovation into its fixed budget. Even with limited funds, the College managed to set aside enough for a food prep table that can be set at wheelchair level or standing level. They considered the needs of handicapped students when choosing the position of all kitchen appliances.
One noted irony is that while Keep’s new kitchen is wheelchair accessible, the building itself is not.
“Someday, it will be. It just wasn’t in the original budget that we set for the kitchen’s renovation. Although we would love to make every building on campus accessible to handicapped students like Third World and Harkness already are, the funding isn’t available at this time,” Gross said.
The kitchen opened on Sept. 3, the day that Keep’s upperclassmen arrived on campus, and together they cooked their first OSCA meal of the year.
OSCA President Erica Tempesta said she was “nervous that Keep wouldn’t open in time…[but]…happy with the effort put into maximizing usable space in a formerly-cramped facility.”
Tempesta feels that kitchens play a crucial role in Oberlin’s co-ops.
“The kitchen is OSCA’s body. We began as a dining organization and we maintain that priority today. The kitchen is what every single OSCA member has in common. The community expresses itself through what it produces there, and almost all co-op-related activity takes place in the kitchen and dining room. Co-op kitchens, furthermore, are some of the best learning spaces on campus. Folks learn to really work together, to create things for themselves and one another, and to run their lives and communities the best way they can.”
First-year Keep resident Amiel Stanek agrees, and feels that the co-op kitchen spirit defines Oberlin.
“One beef I have with [the institution of] college is that it can be an irresponsible place, because you have people cooking and cleaning for you and your only responsibilities are academic. I came to Oberlin so that I could live in a co-op and be responsible for myself while I’m getting an education. The kitchen has helped me learn to work with others, and have a mutual responsibility for communal space.”