Ithaca College’s Campus Center Dining Hall has been struggling to accommodate the number of students swiping in for meals, despite recent renovations that increased the seating capacity of the dining hall in 2017.
During the dining hall’s peak hours, like the campuswide free noon hour on Tuesdays and Thursdays, every table is often occupied. The line to swipe in can stretch outside of the dining hall, and students can sometimes be seen standing on the outskirts of the hall waiting for a seat to open up.
David Prunty, executive director of the Department of Auxiliary Services, said that this is always a problem during the start of the fall semester because of Campus Center’s proximity to academic buildings.
“For right now, everyone’s just going to the closest dining hall, and that’s just not going to work because it’s a small dining hall,” Prunty said.
Campus Center Dining Hall was renovated in the summer of 2017 with issues of overcrowding and lack of space for students in mind, Prunty said. The main upgrades included a larger exit and entrance, preplated food options to help the lines move faster and the addition of approximately 40 seats, Prunty said.
“[The renovation was] largely driven on trying to make things go faster in there,” Prunty said. “It helped, but it doesn’t solve the problem.”
Campus Center Dining Hall attracts more students than Towers Dining Hall and Terrace Dining Hall due to its central location, Jeffrey Scott, director of Dining Services, said. During the 2016–17 academic year, Campus Center received 517,981 swipes, while Towers received 236,286 and Terraces received 412,967.
The total number of students eating at Campus Center increased during the 2017–18 academic year, whereas the number of students swiping into the other two dining halls decreased. Campus Center received 519,372 swipes in, while Towers and Terraces received 178,175 and 359,670, respectively.
The number of students swiping into Campus Center this year has remained comparable to the number of students the dining hall saw last academic year, according to data provided by Scott.
Scott said the college simply did not receive the funding to further address spacing issues in the Campus Center renovations.
“We were forced to work within the space we had to make the dining hall more attractive, flow better, really upgrade the experience and the decor,” Scott said. “We felt good about it, but we would still welcome the opportunity to expand.”
Prunty said that, on a larger scale, the college has begun to talk about some options to solve the problem.
“There’s an understanding that this dining hall is not as big as it needs to be to serve the student population,” he said. “The only logical way to add more capacity is to add a new dining hall. … It’s always a possibility.”
While there is no existing plan in place to add a new dining hall, Prunty said that the possibility cannot be ruled out within the next couple years.
Scott also said that the possibility of a new dining hall may be in the near future.
“As IC looks at master planning and other facility and building improvements, we will advocate for the Campus Center,” Scott said, regarding the expansion of the dining hall.
In the meantime, the mass number of students swiping into the dining hall in a concentrated amount of time raises concerns for students.
Some students are experiencing problems grabbing a quick bite to eat during lunch, like freshman Victoria Lipper. She said she finds the seating problem to be a major inconvenience when she attempts to grab something to eat between classes.
“It’s frustrating that the only good food is at Campus Center, but the only convenient time for me to go is when everyone else does,” Lipper said. “Just don’t go at noon.”
Despite the inconveniences the overcrowding causes, it still is the best option for some students, freshman Kyla Totoro said. Campus Center is the closest dining hall to both her dorm and classes.
“The food isn’t that bad,” Totoro said. “It’s the most convenient option for me, even though it gets so busy.”
The large concentration of students at Campus Center Dining Hall also adds a large stress to the dining hall staff, especially student workers who were newly employed at the start of the semester.
Freshman Summer Stevens found herself working in the dining hall during the lunch hour for her first shift. She said the experience was difficult to handle.
“When the job gets extremely busy, it gets stressful,” Stevens said. She said she feels that a particularly stressful part of her job is serving annoyed students who have to wait in long lines for food.
Her job for her first day of employment was to serve the food to students. When the line started to form the pressure began to amplify, and getting the food out quickly became a challenge when only a small number of employees was present, Stevens said.
“It’s hard to fill up the plates or bowls and also try to get more food from the back when you’re running low when only one or two people are at a station, and a huge line starts to form,” Stevens said.
Scott said the best way for students to alleviate the issue is to take advantage of all of the other dining options that the college offers. Prunty also said students should attempt to spread themselves out to either Towers or Terraces because these spaces have the capacity to accommodate more students.
Scott said students can reduce the rush in Campus Center by participating in the grab-and-go service offered in all three dining halls during both lunch and dinner.
This option allows students to take food out of the dining hall in reusable containers. The grab-and-go option has students fill out a brief form with dining hall staff, and then they are given a container to fill up and take with them. Students must then return the containers to dining hall staff in order to refill them.