The new University Dining Hall officially opened its doors to the public this semester and is ready to serve hungry students and faculty.
Construction of the dining hall began back in June 2015 and finished November 2016, just in time for spring semester. Plans to build the facility began after it was determined that the old dining hall, Carkoski Commons, was too small to meet the demands of the growing student population. Carkoski was built to serve only 1,800 students efficiently. Upon demolition of the Gage Hall Tower in 2013, Carkoski became the only dining hall on campus and around 2,700 students were being served in the limited space, according to the Residential Dining Facility Pre-Design Report.
Students have been eager to take in the new facility and their comments have been mainly positive said Ron Bigley, a cashier at the dining hall.
“They like that it’s really modern,” he said. “They feel like they are getting a Division I level dining hall.”
The only complaint he has heard so far is that once you get your food, it’s a far walk to find a spot. The new dining hall is over twice the size of Carkoski, with 49,075 gross square feet of residential dining space, compared to Carkoski’s 22,155. It can accommodate 3,000 students daily without the worry of long food lines or crowding, which was a common occurrence in Carkoski.
Though bigger, the new building was designed with efficiency in mind. The dining hall has LED lighting and other energy-efficient fixtures to conserve energy usage and reduce energy consumption. The building is also set up so that the heat produced by the ovens and other equipment will be used to help control the overall temperature of the building. The university has even incorporated composting, so food waste will be disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way.
In terms of service, the food stations have been expanded and spread out to avoid traffic back-ups. The old food stations, such as Deli and Grill, remain available, but some new additional stations include a Creation Station, which does made-to-order omelets in the morning and a bakery which bakes fresh goods each morning.
Stations have also been upgraded in order to run more smoothly. For this reason, the salad bar was created with two lines, the pizza station now has four ovens — to help “crank pizzas out like crazy,” said Bigley — and the simple serve station now has their own equipment rather than sharing with other stations.
“The main goal is to serve people more quickly and more easily,” said Bigley.
The other focus is transparency when it comes to food production. Most of the food is made right in front of students, and there are clear walls between the cooks and students so you can see what is being made. This will also help better serve those with food allergies.
“I’m proud of this facility,” said Bigley. “I think we’re offering a really great venue for students here.”
As for the old building, no definitive long-term plans have been made yet for its use, says Nicole Faust, MNSU, Mankato’s Residential Communications Coordinator. In terms of the near future, it will continue to stand as it contains the Residential Life Office, ResTech Services, Student Health Services and Pharmacy, a computer lab, and Chet’s Place. The space where the old dining hall used to be is being used as a storage area for future renovation projects in the residential halls.
Ultimately, however, Carkoski will be demolished to prepare for the next phase of construction, said Faust, which will include an indoor walkway between the residential communities and the dining hall. No date has been set for this next period, but it will be something to keep an eye out for if you are around in a couple years.