MANKATO — Minnesota State University students returned from winter break in January with a shiny, new dining hall to head to once their stomachs started growling.

The university shuttered the student dining facility at Carkoski Commons and opened the $31.4 million University Dining Center with more than double the square footage next door on January 9.

While students have been sating their appetites in the new building since then, administrators commemorated it Friday.

Before a “ribbon” cutting — actually a ribbon-shaped cake — MSU President Richard Davenport said the spacious dining hall is one of the best of its kind in the country.

“This one is going to be touted as the model dining center around the U.S.,” he said. “We’re very proud.”

He said the new dining center addresses the space constraints plaguing the 1959-built Carkoski Commons, which served as the only dining hall on campus once the Gage towers were decommissioned in 2012 and torn down the following year.

Planning for the University Dining Center began shortly after, with the administration working with residential life staff and students on the design and concept. Student revenue funds — including residence hall room and board fees — will cover the cost for the building.

With more serving stations, food options and seating, the dining center has the capacity to feed more than 3,000 students each meal. Cindy Janney, the university’s director of residential life, said more students come through the new dining center by 2 p.m. than they did all day at the old one.

“You come to work everyday because you want to make it a better place for students,” she said. “It’s fun to see the looks on their faces and fun to see the dining staff interacting with them.”

Apart from feeding the hungry masses, the new dining center is also meant to cut down on waste, she said. Composting has allowed dining services to go from from 26 bags of trash per day at the old hall to two per day at the new one.

Over the busy lunch hour, students Friday said the facility is an upgrade from both a practical and aesthetic standpoint.

Zach Heyne, eating with fellow freshman Victoria Nelson and Arthur Harmon, said it's far easier to find a seat in the new building even during peak meal times.

“When it’s lunch time normally it’d be hard to find a place to sit,” he said. “Now it’s easy.”

Yulia Podorova and Jorey Fischer, just finishing dessert at their high table, said they were happy more fresh food options were available in the new hall. The high ceilings with tall windows, allowing natural lighting to fill the room on sunny days like Friday, are also a nice touch, Podorova said.

“Where we’re sitting right here, I like the windows,” she said. “It’s natural light coming in most of the time, which is really cool and saves energy.”

Fischer said the more modern, spacious room gives the dining hall a friendlier feel that it used to have.

“It just feels more open,” he said. “It feels more welcoming.”

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

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