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A freshly brewed look

BY TOMMY MORGAN JR. | JANUARY 21, 2010 7:30 AM

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Renovations usually try to make the old look new. For Wild Bill’s Coffee Shop, several months of remodeling has created not only updated facilities but a recognition of the past, as well.

Wild Bill’s, 301 North Hall, will celebrate its future and its past with a grand reopening celebration at 4 p.m. today. The event will feature a performance from local musicians Greg and Susan Dirks, speeches from managers and directors, and tours of the new facilities.

The coffee shop, managed by the School of Social Work, operates as a service-learning opportunity for the school’s students and employs local people with disabilities.

Wild Bill’s closed for the renovations in May and reopened Tuesday.

“This is a time for the community to come and see Wild Bill’s revitalized and ready to serve the Iowa City community,” said Wild Bill’s manager, UI social-work student Alena Vazquez.

Before it started being used as a space for university classes, North Hall housed the University Schools, experimental K-12 educational facilities administered by the UI College of Education. The room in which Wild Bill’s is located used to be a kindergarten classroom, and the remodeling of the coffee shop serves to show this part of the building’s history.

“I think some people who went to elementary school and high school will be here at the opening,” said Jefri Palermo, the development coordinator for the School of Social Work. “Now that it’s been brought back to life, I’m sure they’re going to want to see it.”

She said the renovations exposed the old kindergarten floor — complete with a reading circle — which the school chose to keep on display.

“We decided, rather than replace it, that it was wonderful,” Palermo said. “So we kept it.”

During the grand reopening, Wild Bill’s will also display artifacts found from the elementary school, such as student drawings, educational posters, and quarantine signs from the 1918 flu epidemic.

“It’s just amazing that we’re part of that long chain of history in this building,” Palermo said. “We wanted to honor the past.”

The old is not the only focus, though — those involved with Wild Bill’s are also celebrating the renovation of the shop’s kitchen. She said the kitchen now has a dedicated water heater and dishwasher. Workers used to have to heat water in coffeepots in order to do dishes and other cleaning.

“Not much had been done [to the kitchen] in 35 years,” Palermo said.

The new kitchen will also feature a tile wall showing the names of people who have donated to the shop as well as tiles painted by students.

One feature of the new Wild Bill’s that is both new and old is a restored stage in the space, meant to attract more to North Hall. Palermo said Wild Bill’s is planning to hold events every Thursday night, and they will include music, spoken-word performances, and theater presentations.

Vazquez said she hopes that Wild Bill’s will also become a more attractive study space for students.

“The space is feeling more and more like a hub for relaxation, studying, and conducting small get-togethers,” she said.


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