SIOUX FALLS | Three eastern South Dakota universities are expanding their student centers this summer, a move university officials say is necessary to accommodate growing enrollments.

South Dakota State University in Brookings, the University of South Dakota in Vermillion and Northern State University in Aberdeen all have recently kicked off student center remodel projects, and while construction plans vary, all are aimed at providing increased space.

SDSU’s $8.3 million student union expansion beginning this summer will add about 19,000 square-feet and additional seating for about 300. The expansion will be paid for by student dining services meal plans and is scheduled to be completed next summer.

Three nationally branded food service sites will be a part of the new dining space, said SDSU Student Union Director Jennifer Novotny. Two have yet to be confirmed, but she said there will be a Panda Express, which will offer Asian cuisine.

“When we were looking at overall dining fixture, we noticed that we, specifically in our student union, do not have enough seats to accommodate just the basic lunch rush,” Novotny said.

This is the third expansion of SDSU’s student union since it was built in the early 1970s. The last was about two years ago, which included the addition of Einstein Bros Bagels.

“The building that we are living in, prior to our expansion in 2005, was built for 5,000 students,” she said. “As you can imagine, that number has grown, and grown and grown over time, so that first dining expansion was just really trying to recognize that we’re a little behind on some of that.”

The idea behind the expansion is to focus on the needs of the current student population and not build in anticipation for future growth, Novotny said.

“When you look at the scope of our facility, we have made some changes and upgrades, but we can’t quite keep up with the growth of what our state has seen and what our university has seen,” she said. “It would make sense to continue to look at what we currently have in our building and fine tune some of those things.”

USD will begin construction by early June on an addition to its Muenster University Center, which opened in 2009. The expansion will add slightly less than 30,000 square-feet to the facility and will be completed in spring of 2014.

The expansion will expand seating from the current 450 to 1,200 seats and will include the addition of three national brand dining options: Qdoba, Chick-fil-A and Einstein Bros Bagels, said Jeff Baylor, vice president of marketing, enrollment and student services at USD.

In addition, the expansion also will provide additional meeting and study space.

“We continue to see enrollment growth, which is good,” Baylor said. “We have another dining location on campus which is dire need of renovation, and this project would be a much better investment for the university rather than trying to bring back and older kitchen and dining area, and that space can be repurposed for other institutional priorities.”

The move would consolidate dining at USD at both the Muenster University Center and the university’s North Complex into one location. However the North Complex dining area will remain open until the expansion is complete in 2014. In addition, the university plans on expanding the convenience store-type area already in the North Complex to include a Papa John’s retail location.

Menus for the national brands will be comparable to other restaurant locations, and pricing will be based on regional pricing, said Adam Chicoine, USD campus dining food services director.

The cost for construction and ongoing operational costs for USD’s expansion will be paid for through housing and food service revenues, according to documents submitted to the South Dakota Board of Regents.

There’s been a shift in mindset over the years when it comes to student centers from being just a place to eat, to being more of a “living room of campus,” said Jack Warner, executive director of the South Dakota Board of Regents.

“It’s where students like to go, they go there to study, they go there to socialize,” Warner said. “If you go to USD now, you see there’s a connector between the library and the student union building, it’s booths, and those booths are full all day long. It’s a combination of studying, and people socializing or working in groups.”

The addition of national brands to student centers would create more comfortable conditions for students, he said.

“Campuses who have re-designed their dining within the last 10 to 15 years, have re-designed them to be more of an open access type of place,” Warner said. “You just don’t get a hot meal and a salad, but there’s a salad bar, a pasta bar.”

Northern State University will wrap up a roughly $6 million expansion project on its student center this summer, which will increase entertainment and seating space and will include addition of an Einstein Bros Bagels, said Brenda Dreyer, university relations director.

This is the second expansion done at the student center since it was built in 1960. The first expansion was on a much smaller scale, Dreyer said.

During the last school year, Northern’s 3,580 students was the largest enrollment in more than 40 years. That was about 280 more students than the year before, school officials said.

“Because of our enrollment increases, we just don’t have room for everyone to eat,” she said, adding the expansion should accommodate future growth as well.

The project, which has been in the makings for several years, was voted on by the university’s student government, and will be paid for through an increase of $5 per credit hour for students, university officials said.

Student input helped drive the design of the expansion, said Jim Smith, university president.

“We had dining, it worked, it was very crowded,” Smith said. “It will meet the needs of today’s students much better than what we had in past generations. It really is their (students) center, and we tried to build something that was within the cost constraints of the dollars that we had, but really within the mindset of what they wanted.”

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