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Monday, January 22, 2007

Students at ASU get new dining facility

Alabama State University's former "sweatbox" is serving up a different kind of heat -- from the kitchen.

After more than a year of renovations, the Fred Shuttlesworth Dining Hall is open.

The new campus cafeteria was converted from the C.J. Dunn Arena, where students played intramural sports. Students nicknamed the gym the "sweatbox" because it was always hot in the building.

"It's a beautiful multipurpose facility," said ASU spokeswoman Janel Bell-Haynes. "The students really enjoy it."

The $7 million dining hall, named for the famed civil rights activist and ASU alumnus, seats 1,200 people and is equipped with flat-screen TVs and has wireless Internet capabilities. In addition to students, the public can eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the cafeteria.

"I think the food has stepped up to the plate and everything is fresh," said Joy Smith, a junior. "It's much more comfortable."

Food service director Ron Stringer said that the new dinning hall is primarily self-service, unlike the previous set-up where employees served students food. Students can see pizzas coming out of the oven every five minutes and onion rings cooking in the deep fryer. They also have their choice of fresh-made deli sandwiches and stir-fry.

"The first thing that strikes you is the ambiance," Stringer said. "We are now able to cook items at the point of service as opposed to cooking in advance for meals."

The dining hall is part of a long-term building project under way at ASU to construct and renovate buildings to attract new students and accommodate growth. Construction on the new cafeteria began in May 2005 and was completed this month.

Before the new dining hub opened, students could eat at one of two cafeterias in the John Garrick Hardy University Center, which is being torn down and transformed into a $16 million student center that will include a food court. Only one cafeteria served breakfast, but both provided lunch and dinner. Students were not allowed to enter the dining halls unless meals were being served.

At the new facility, students can socialize between classes and purchase snacks between meals. The center is open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.

It's more than just a place to grab a bite before class, said Student Government Association President Victor Revill.

"We plan to use the dining hall now to host several activities for students on campus," Revill, said adding the SGA is planning to host a Super Bowl party in February. "It's a nice place to be and it's starting to become the new hangout on campus," he said.

Sophomore Farron Carson agreed.

"It makes you want to come and eat," Carson said. "In the old cafeteria, you wanted to skip a meal.

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