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Remodeled Limestone College Student Center Opened

STUDENT CENTER

 Students relax inside the newly-renovated Dobson Student Center, on the campus of Limestone College in Gaffney.

By: Drew Brooks
Spartanburg Herald Journal

A new contractor has brought new life to Limestone College’s student center in the heart of campus.The revamped space — once home to old couches, cinder block walls and food that did little to capture the appetites of Limestone students — now boasts brand new furniture, a Sub Connection and a Starbucks.

School officials said the contractor, Sodexo, assumed the school’s food service contract in mid-May and immediately poured several hundred thousand dollars into the upgrades.

Sodexo, one of the largest food service providers in the world, also plans “substantial” renovations to Limestone’s Stephenson Dining Hall next summer that will increase capacity and present more food options for students.

The Dixie Lodge within the Dobson Student Center is almost unrecognizable, according to both students and Joe Fields, the on-site general manager of Sodexo’s Limestone College operations.

“This was not even here,” Fields said while sitting in front of an ever-busy Starbucks counter. “The furniture, the carpet, the lighting — It was all due to be replaced. It hadn’t been replaced in years.”

Fields said the changes were made specifically with students in mind.

Sodexo wanted to make the space one where students would congregate, he said. An extension of those efforts are open mic nights and other programs that are being planned for the space.

“This wasn’t a place where people hung out,” Fields said. “This needed to be updated. We wanted to draw students in.”

Wednesday morning, several students were in the space. Some were playing pool while others sat around tables talking or studying.

Paige Mathias, a junior biology major from Chester, said she wouldn’t have considered studying in the student center last year.

“I didn’t like to come in here,” she said while sipping a cold Starbucks drink around a book-laden table. “You didn’t come in here unless you had to, unless you didn’t have any other place to eat.”

Now, Mathias and her friends have made good use of the space, they said.

“We’re here about three times a week,” said Treyniqua Dickey, a sophomore graphic arts major from Washington, D.C.

Dickey said she was most excited when she learned the school added a Starbucks and said she appreciated the other upgrades to the space.

“The floors were scratched and stained,” she said of the old student center. “I didn’t spend one moment more than I had to in here.”

“It was boring,” added Matt Castle, a sophomore business marketing major from Georgetown.

As he sat with friends, workers at the Sub Connection nearby prepared ingredients for fresh-made sandwiches. Castle said the student center used to offer pre-made sandwiches from the dining hall and hot dogs that sat under heat lamps.

Fields said he’s heard the complaints about what the student center had become and said he’d work to make sure he didn’t repeat past mistakes. He said he aims to be more visible to students and wants to be able to respond to their needs.

Sodexo sees a lot of potential in its Limestone College operations, he said, because of the school’s recent growth.

This year, Limestone welcomed 1,030 students to campus, a 16 percent increase from last year.

Nearly half of those students are new to the school, either freshmen or transfers, officials said.

That added population has put an admitted strain on campus dining, Fields said. In response, dining hours have been extended to what Fields calls “continuous feeding” — meaning that students can eat whenever they like when the dining facilities are open instead of being pigeon-holed to a couple of hours for each meal.

“Overall, it seems to have been pretty well-received,” he said. “We’re still trying to feel our way into this.”

Fields said specifics about the dining hall renovations have not been worked out, but said work would begin after the spring semester.

“The changes will be noticed,” he said. “They’ll be impressive.”

A concept of the design is on display in Stephenson Dining Hall, it shows a more contemporary design with added dining options.

According to those designs, the renovations would increase capacity in the dining hall from 240 to more than 300 students.