Renovated dining hall improves student experience

After undergoing an interior renovation, Penn State Hazleton's dining hall now features a modern setup that encourages students to spend more time and enjoy their experience there.

Chancellor Gary Lawler said the campus continually focuses on how it can improve, and the dining hall was another student-focused endeavor. "We think it's important to invest in our campus and make the Hazleton experience even better for our students, many of whom visit our dining hall several times a day," he said.

Housing and Food Services Director Jonathan Kukta said, "As part of our five-year strategic plan, we determined we needed to renovate the dining hall to stay current and offer a modern, inclusive dining experience to our students." The dining hall's last major renovation was in 1996.

Improvements began in May and were completed by the time students returned to campus in late August. Large, long tables were replaced with uniquely designed high-top community tables that are more inviting and encourage conversation, even among those who may not know each other.

"The community tables are always full. Students have been gravitating toward them," said Housing and Food Services Manager Mark Tranguch.

Other additions include museum chairs like those that can be found at an art museum - "to add a little bit of 'wow' factor," Kukta said - as well as banquette seating, chairs with flexible backs and tables with ports to charge devices.

Soft seating and artwork have been replaced. Laminate has replaced carpeting. Window frames and soffits have been repainted. Lighting fixtures have also been replaced, with a total of 22 new modern, energy-efficient lights installed.
Some new seating areas have been added, providing additional places for students to eat, gather or study.

A table along the back window faces a new landscaped area behind the dining hall. Kukta said, "We wanted to incorporate the beauty of the surroundings here. This table looks out into our beautiful wooded area, where students can sometimes see wildlife."

Tranguch said usage of the dining hall has increased. "Since the renovation, more students are sitting in the dining hall and meeting at our high-top tables," he said.

Housing and Food Services consulted the Housing and Food Services Student Advisory Board in preparation for the renovation. "We wanted to include the students in every decision we made," Kukta said.

Robert Vitagliano, a sophomore and vice president of the Penn State Hazleton Student Government Association, said the students are pleased with the result. "I'm extremely happy that the university decided to reinvest in upgrading the dining facilities, as it shows that they want to help improve our campus. Considering that many students visit the dining hall several times a day, it's something they definitely appreciate. I have heard many compliments since it was done," he said.

Kukta said other universities have come to tour the renovated facility as a model for their own potential upgrades.

The renovation also included a complete makeover of the special events room, which plays host to a variety of private catering events and meetings. That room now features new furniture, paint, carpet and sconces, along with a fresh new color scheme.