MARTIN, Tenn. — New surroundings, expanded choices and cool places to spend time. All were officially unveiled Thursday as the University of Tennessee at Martin celebrated the grand re-opening of two widely used areas on the main campus. A 10:30 a.m. ceremony in the Boling University Center showcased the newly upgraded Barnes & Noble College Bookstore and Sodexo Skyhawk Dining Hall.
Barnes & Noble committed $350,000 to the bookstore’s relocation to the university center’s first floor, while Sodexo made a $3.25 million investment in the dining services area.
John Abel, Boling University Center interim director, emceed the program leading up to a ribbon cutting that was held on the first-floor hallway entrance leading to both the bookstore and dining services. “Both (projects) have been a long time coming,” Abel said, who welcomed the crowd that included Barnes & Noble and Sodexo representatives.
Abel said that both projects involved student input throughout and were completed almost simultaneously in eight months. SGA President John Domanski, of Dickson, described the changes as “something that we have needed.” He added, “I think it’s safe to say that everyone I’ve talked to likes the new areas.”
The Barnes & Noble College Bookstore began moving spring semester from its longtime second-floor location in the Boling University Center. With the move, the bookstore increased the amount of merchandise and textbooks, but appearances are deceiving as the new space is similar in size to the former location.
“The floor space is actually not a huge difference in square footage,” said bookstore manager Steven Sanchez in an earlier interview. “The difference comes from the layout. Upstairs the store was long and straight.
“Now we have a better layout with a better experience for everyone. We also can handle crowds for our back-to-school times a lot better now, too.”
Sanchez is especially pleased with the bookstore’s new combination study and leisure area called The POD, which is located in the store’s book sales area.
“Students can come in and watch TV between classes,” Sanchez said. “We have a table and chairs for people to work on schoolwork with a dry erase board behind it. We also have charging stations for anyone to come charge their phones, tablets, computers – whatever they might need.”
“I like it (the new bookstore) a lot,” said Matthew Morgan, a freshman engineering major from Clinton, Ky. “I mean it’s all wide open, and you can easily find stuff.” He also likes the textbooks located separately from other merchandise.
Bailee Barrett, a freshman chemistry major from Smyrna, has shopped the old and new bookstore. “It’s awesome,” she said of the new location. “It’s a lot bigger, and there’s a lot more … selection of items for class and for apparel.”
Across the hall from the bookstore is the renovated dining hall and new coffee shop, The Hanger, which serves Starbucks Coffee. The Sodexo Skyhawk Dining Hall has a larger seating capacity and new dining options, including the 360 Degrees grill, Magellan international food option and an Italian food choice called Bella Trattoria.
Staple dining options include the salad bar, now called Fresh From the Fields, the hot plate option called Daily Dish, the Basic Kneads sandwich station, and the Ignite Grill. Desserts can be found near each food station, and soda fountains are in three different locations.
Jesse Koweleski, UT Martin Sodexo Dining Services promotions coordinator, is a senior communications major from McEwen. Koweleski, who has earned two years of professional experience working with Sodexo, has seen the area’s transformation firsthand. Work on the dining hall began the day after May graduation, and meals were served starting in mid-August when athletes returned to campus, he said.
“Pretty much if you look at it, every single thing from the spoon, the fork, the knife, the plate, is brand new. All of the equipment, brand new. Everything is new,” Koweleski said in an earlier interview.
As for reaction to the changes, “It’s almost been a complete shock. … All the reactions of the students, some of the faculty as well, and then even some community members, they absolutely love it.” The dining hall is open to the public, and brunch is served on the first Sunday of each month.
“I like it,” said Morgan Threadgill, a freshman nursing major from Lexington. “I mean there’s a lot of choices, and it (the food) doesn’t get old, because there’s so many different choices.”
Heath Simpson, a senior agriculture major from Somerville has experienced both the former and newly remodeled dining hall. He admits to being a bit surprised when he first saw the changes.
“Well I know my first reaction when I walked in here from coming back from summer was kind of like, ‘Whoa, where is everything?’ But after you walk around and figure stuff out it’s kind of nice,” Simpson said.
PHOTO CAPTION – A 10:30 a.m. ceremony Thursday, Sept. 11, in UT Martin’s Boling University Center, showcased the newly upgraded Barnes & Noble College Bookstore and Sodexo Skyhawk Dining Hall. Ready to cut ribbon following the ceremony were (l to r) John Abel, Boling University Center interim director; Steven Sanchez, Barnes & Noble College Bookstore manager; John Domanski, UT Martin SGA president; Dr. Tom Rakes, UT Martin chancellor; and Benjamin Long, UT Martin Sodexo Dining Services general manager.