From left: Phil Martin, construction manager, Cheryl Montgomery, director of Auxiliary Services, Merry Yirga, co-manager of Common Grounds, and President Susan Schultz Huxman cut the ribbon at the Oct. 2 Grand Reopening of Eastern Mennonite University's new coffee house and student union. (Photos by Bryan Luna)

Common Grounds Coffeehouse and new student union celebrates grand opening

Just in time for Homecoming and Family Weekend, EMU’s renovated Common Grounds Coffeehouse is open for business.

Approximately 200 EMU students, faculty and staff attended the Grand Reopening and ribbon-cutting ceremony on Monday morning, queuing for free celebratory drinks while the EMU Jazz Band played.

A view from the Hall of Nations into the coffeehouse and student union (left) during the reopening ceremony. (Photo by Noussaiba Garti/Weather Vane)

The new cafe, on the second floor of the University Commons adjacent to the Royals Den and Hall of Nations, offers a spacious and comfortable location to enjoy food and drinks, study, or meet friends. Similar to the former Common Grounds, the 3,726-square-foot-space has a stage, projector and sound system for hosting concerts, lectures or movie nights. The project, which President Susan Schultz Huxman called “the fastest renovation in the history of EMU,” was a $2.2 million investment.

La’akea Fujita, one of four managers of the student-run business, was excited to open the modernized coffee shop with what she described as an “open and welcoming atmosphere.”

Fellow manager Briana Garcia-Sanchez, who specializes in events and marketing, is looking forward to “setting a new Common Grounds vibe and aesthetic.”

Renovations in University Commons include the coffeehouse (left), a new decorative mural, lighting, signage, and upgrades to the President’s Reception Room. The project also included a new Admissions space on the first floor as well as a renovated area in the adjacent hallway leading to EMU Athletics.

The new space has a “more modern look and feel, and there’s going to be a lot more people in and out of the space since it’s in the center of the UC and attached to a student union space,” she said.

The new space occupies the area that was formerly the bookstore. Adjacent areas of the second floor were also renovated and new artwork – a mural designed by EMU creative director Jon Styer and his team – decorates the exterior wall of the track, which faces the coffee shop.

Cheryl Montgomery, director of EMU’s Auxiliary Services, said planners began to think about reimagining the space before the university’s contract with Follet Higher Education ended in 2020.

The project grew to include reconsideration of the game room and Common Grounds downstairs, and the President’s Reception Room upstairs. Planners also began to consider if the Admissions office – tucked away into a back corner of the Campus Center – could be relocated more centrally in the University Commons.

Common Grounds baristas prepare free drinks during the celebration.

Renovations to the University Commons began in January 2022. Admissions staff moved into their new space on the first floor over the summer, and work on Common Grounds continued apace to be completed before Homecoming.

Phil Martin, construction manager and facility planner, led the project. He collaborated with SGA, Admissions, Common Grounds staff and other constituents, and worked architects Welby Lehman and Kristin LaPorta of Blueline, who assisted EMU in developing the vision of the space. 

A whole host of other construction partners, including Harman Construction, Trumbo Electric, and Mast and Brunk, were involved in the project.

 The old Common Grounds space is still available and can be reserved for events.

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